WASHINGTON, D.C. – American Airlines said Tuesday that it would begin weekly charter flights between Los Angeles and Havana, Cuba, in December, as the long freeze between the two countries continues to melt.
American would become the second major U.S. airline to take advantage of loosened restriction on travel between the two longtime enemies, after JetBlue launched direct charter flights between New York and Havana last month.
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American has operated charters from Florida to Cuba since 1991 principally serving the large expatriate Cuban community, but the new Los Angeles route recognizes the rapidly expanding market for non-Cuban travelers.
“American is the premier carrier in Los Angeles and throughout the Caribbean, and this new charter flight shows how we continue to expand our reach by offering new routes and services our customers want,” said senior vice president Art Torno in a statement.
As with JetBlue, restrictions will still apply to American Airlines’ Cuba service: Tickets have to be sold through a separate, specially-authorized travel company rather than directly by the carrier; and regularly scheduled service is still prohibited.
American’s tickets will be sold through Cuba Travel Services, which has long handled tickets for the carrier’s charter flights from Florida.
A five-decade Cold War freeze of relations between the two countries, separated by a bare 90 miles (150 kilometers) of Caribbean waters, began thawing after U.S. President Barack Obama’s agreement with Cuban President Raúl Castro to restore diplomatic relations last year.
Cuba reopened its embassy in Washington on July 20, and the U.S. Embassy reopened in Havana last week.
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While travel by Americans to Cuba is still restricted, airlines and cruise ship operators are jockeying for position to what could become a lucrative tourism trade as Cuba opens its economy.
“We stand ready to offer scheduled service as soon as the United States and Cuba allow commercial flights,” Torno said.
United Airlines also said earlier this year it wants to begin Houston-Havana and Newark-Havana flights.