U.S. approves flights to Havana from 10 American cities

WASHINGTON, July 7 (UPI) — The U.S. Department of Transportation on Thursday approved commercial flights to Havana from 10 American cities.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx outlined the department’s awarding of tentative approval for eight U.S. airlines to begin the flights from 10 U.S. cities this fall.

“Today we take another important step toward delivering on President Obama’s promise to re-engage Cuba,” he said in a statement. “Restoring regular air service holds tremendous potential to reunite Cuban American families and foster education and opportunities for American businesses of all sizes.”

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The eight airlines given tentative approval to fly to Havana include American, Delta, United, Southwest, JetBlue, Alaska, Frontier and Spirit.

Last month, the Transportation Department approved a handful of airlines to begin flying to nine Cuban destinations, not including Havana. Two of those airlines, Silver and Sun Country Airlines, did not receive approval for Havana service.

The cities approved for round-trip service are Atlanta, Charlotte, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Miami, Newark, New York City, Orlando, and Tampa — plus Los Angeles, the only city on the West Coast on the list.

Washington, D.C., and Chicago are two major American hubs not on the list.

Transportation officials said a dozen American carriers applied for direct service to Havana, which would have amounted to more flights than the American and Cuban governments agreed to in February.

“Collectively, the airlines applied for nearly 60 flights per day to Havana, exceeding the 20 daily flights made available by arrangement between the two governments,” the department said in a news release. “The Department’s principal objective in making its proposed selections was to maximize public benefits, including choosing airlines that offered and could maintain the best ongoing service between the U.S. and Havana.”

Objections to the proposals for Havana travel are due by July 22, officials said, and the Transportation Department will make a final determination on the details later this summer.

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Regular commercial flights between the United States and Cuba stopped in the early 1960s, shortly after Fidel Castro took power in the 1959 revolution and turned the island into a Communist dictatorship, allied with the Soviet Union.

The United States severed diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961, and imposed an embargo on all commerce with the island.

At the end of 2014, after more than 50 years, the United States announced that it would begin to normalize relations with Cuba.

The U.S. embassy in Havana was re-opened in 2015, and President Barack Obama visited Cuba in March, becoming the first sitting U.S. commander in-chief to do so since Calvin Coolidge in 1928.

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