The US and Cuba have reached an agreement to resume commercial flights between the two countries. Soon we won’t be limited to charter flights.
The deal does not mean that Americans will be able to begin booking travel to Cuba immediately. But it would set in motion the safety inspections and other procedures required by the Federal Aviation Administration when such an agreement is reached. Experts say it will probably be three to six months before U.S. carriers can begin selling tickets to Cuba.
One trick to all of this was ensuring that Cubana de Aviacion could fly to the U.S., and do so without risk of having its aircraft seized to satisfy US judgments.
Since US citizens spending money in Cuba for tourism remains a violation of US law, and because for a variety of reasons I have a greater than average likelihood of attracting attention from US authorities who might choose to selectively enforce laws, I’ve been reluctant to go myself. While journalism is a permissible category, if I was selectively targeted for enforcement – while intellectually interesting – I’d hate to be in the position of litigating what constitutes journalism.
U.S. travelers who want to visit Cuba would have to qualify under one of the U.S. Treasury Department’s 12 categories for legal travel to the island. Those permitted to make such trips include U.S. residents with family members on the island, Americans traveling for religious or professional reasons and visitors who participate in licensed “people-to-people” organized tours with an educational bent.
Nonetheless, there’s a huge curiosity factor that should drive tourism demand in the short run. And in a reversal of how we usually think these things work, Cubans may be flocking to their own beaches before Americans ruin them.
The US-Cuba business travel market remains pretty limited and thus this is a place where airlines could lose lots of money. There’s the potential for catchup growth if the Cuban government allows it. However,
- Pretty much all traffic for these flights will originate in the US. There’s almost no customer base to support these flights in Cuba.
- Planes will be filled predominantly with leisure travel. Cuba isn’t a strong business destination.
- Infrastructure in Cuba, from the airport to hotels, is wholly inadequate to match an aviation boom and influx of tourists. (Although scheduled flights versus international charters might at least move from terminal 2 in Havana to the more modern terminal 3.)
- It’s an expensive airport to operate at, with costs that make Miami look like Branson, Missouri.
In fairness, it’s a somewhat strong tourist destination from Canada, although Air Canada’s daily Toronto-Havana flight from Toronto is operated only with a 97 seat Embraer E-190. Several airlines make once a week Cuba service work from a variety of Canadian cities to places like Holguin in Cuba bypassing Havana. So there is a market albeit not a huge one — new and exciting, but not the gold rush some airlines seem to be preparing for.
Cuba is interesting mostly as a forbidden fruit. In Argentina at least there’s a saying, “Tengo una remera del Che y no sé por qué,” or “I have a Che T-shirt and I don’t know why.” In Colombo, Sri Lanka earlier this year I came across these contradictory symbols on a local vehicle:
And of course at one time Guevara was featured at the W South Beach.
I just hope that when people do go, they’ll internalize what he — and the Cuban revolution — have done to impoverish the lives of people.