Cities Journal

Travel To Cuba Is About To Become So Much Easier (And Cheaper)


Havana Malecon is the seafront promenade in Cuba’s capital, one of the most famous seafronts in the world, exuding charm and telling innumerable stories. Well, the way things are going, do not be surprised if your children know this place as the spot where you can get McDonald’s in once isolated communist island nation.

Okay, it will take a few more years, at least, for this to happen, but the first steps are already being made, this Tuesday’s agreement being one of the more important so far. Namely, as part of the further normalization of diplomatic relations between the two countries, the US and Cuba signed an agreement on civil aviation, which will give US-based airlines the chance to fly to Cuba as they would to any other country in the world.

The signing of the civil aviation agreement may not seem like much to you, but it is actually a giant step towards normalizing travel to Cuba for American citizens, on par with the one which finally allowed American citizens to travel legally to the island country, albeit still somewhat limited and requiring “special reasons.”

If you do not remember, the Obama administration had already made it possible for Americans to travel to Cuba under 12 permitted categories, such as trips with religious missions or on humanitarian grounds. In essence, this just means you have to tick the right box on your visa form, which has already dramatically increased the number of American tourists traveling to the island 40 miles off of the coast of Florida. And it can be seen.

Most people who have been visiting Cuba regularly over the years are saying that the country is changing when it comes to content important to tourists. For instance, whereas let’s say five years ago it was an ordeal to find restaurants that could stand up to eateries from other parts of the world, today there are quite a few restaurants opening up all over the place, often doing fantastic meals and offering their patrons a complete experience.

Of course, Cuba is still very limited due to its political situation, most notably gargantuan bureaucracy which can suffocate even the best-meaning accommodation or restaurant owners, as well as their potential guests. Overbooking is still a common thing in extremely centralized Cuba and it can be quite an ordeal ensuring that everything goes right on your trip.

2Since more American tourists have started visiting Cuba, it is also possible to see the shift in the tourism-associated industries in the country that are gearing more and more towards American travelers. For instance, tourist agency owners from other countries often say that their clients are being bumped because of American tourists which are seen as something of a cash cow. And while the Cubans are very well-aware that Americans are bringing money and are more than willing to take it, they claim that they are still not ready to let their culture and way of life become Americanized.

With this new civil aviation agreement in place and the significantly increased influx of American tourist that it is going to bring, they will not have much choice. But why exactly is this agreement going to change things so much? For one, it is going to increase the number of flights that go from the US to Cuba on a daily basis. At the moment, only about 20 charter planes fly to Cuba from the US every day, the vast majority of them from NYC and Miami, most of them booked for months in advance. Thanks to this new agreement, this number is going to increase to at least a hundred flights.

The increased number of flights and the fact they will be regular commercial flights means that the prices will drop. In case you are not aware of it, at the moment, the prices of flights to Cuba are just insane, with a 40-minute flight from Miami costing more than $400.

The airlines are currently submitting their applications to the Department of Transportation, including Delta, American, Southwest and Jet Blue, among others. Once they are given clearance and once they also work out the details of their planned lines to Cuba with the country’s authorities, the flights will commence.

Also check out our Globe Trotter series about Cuba:

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