To help its new Cuba business take off, American Airlines plans to work with an outside company to assist passengers with getting visas for travel to the island, and it will set up a special Cuba reservations desk soon.
Normally obtaining visas to countries that require them for entry by American citizens, such as Brazil and China, is the responsibility of passengers.
But Martha Pantin, an American spokeswoman said, “With this being a new situation, we are working with a third-party vendor that will assist customers who have purchased flights to Cuba on American Airlines.”
Once passengers are ticketed, usually about 30 days prior to departure, they will receive a call from the American vendor who will work with them on the visa process, she said. Journalists and those traveling to Cuba for business will need to make their own visa applications through the Cuban Embassy in Washington.
She said it also was “unique” for the airline to have a reservations team dedicated to a single country.
Because embargo restrictions still remain in place, only U.S. passengers who fall into 12 categories of travel authorized by the U.S. government are allowed to travel from the United States to Cuba. Travel for pure tourism isn’t allowed, although there is legislation pending in Congress to eliminate Cuba travel restrictions entirely.
American plans its inaugural flight to Cuba on Sept. 7, but is still awaiting final approval from the Cuban government. American executives were in Cuba last week negotiating the details, said Pantin.
Although charter companies have been flying the Cuba route for many years, no U.S. airline has offered commercial service to Cuba in more than 50 years. But as part of the Obama administration’s engagement with Cuba, the United States and Cuba agreed to restore commercial air service between the two countries.
American also has extended a fare sale for its first regularly scheduled flights to Cuba until July 11. The special fares apply for travel to five Cuban cities from Sept. 7 through Nov. 15. All the fares require a three-night minimum stay or a Sunday stay.
American’s first flight to Cuba is scheduled to arrive in Cienfuegos on Cuba’s south coast Sept. 7. Another American flight is scheduled to land in the Cuban city of Holguín the same day, but the Cienfuegos trip will be the inaugural flight because it takes off earlier in the day.
American also will be flying to Camagüey, Santa Clara and Matanzas, and has applied for Havana routes that are expected to be awarded by the Department of Transportation later this summer. Five other U.S. commercial airlines also have been authorized to begin regularly scheduled service to the island.
The Cuba fare sale also has been extended to other U.S. cities where American flies, including Boston and New York where round-trip fares were lowered to $160, excluding taxes. Round-trip flights originating in Miami are $198 excluding taxes ($286 with taxes included.)
American also will be offering special fares for Cuba flights originating in Tampa, Orlando, Newark, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C, Houston, Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, Los Angeles and San Francisco.