Friday, February 19, 2016

Are you ready to travel to Cuba?

It's about to get a lot easier:
Houston's two dominant airlines are seeking approval to offer scheduled flights to Cuba.

On Tuesday, U.S. and Cuban officials signed an agreement previously announced in December that will restore scheduled air service between the countries.

United Airlines said in a statement that it will apply for flights between some of its global gateways and Havana.

Henry Harteveldt, founder of San Francisco-based Atmosphere Research Group, a travel industry research company, said it is possible that United will offer flights from Houston to Cuba, but the airline will ultimately choose airports based on the largest market opportunity.
Southwest Airlines will also contend for the coveted flights.
Houston is not guaranteed any direct flights to Cuba; the airlines themselves will determine where the flights to Havana and nine other Cuban airports will originate and I'm sure Miami and New York will get the lion's share of those flights. That being said, given Bush Intercontinental's status as United's Latin American gateway, I'd be very surprised if Houston didn't eventually end up with some sort of nonstop service to Cuba.

Even if flights between Houston and Cuba become a reality, there's still a catch: American citizens still can't travel there as tourists. Your travel has to be focused around one or more of twelve categories of allowable travel. But even then, the categories are broad enough to allow people to get creative:
"Almost every American should be able to travel to Cuba under one of these categories," Sen. Jeff Flake, a major sponsor of the new policy, told me last month. One lawyer who specializes in Cuba-US issues told the New York Times that if you can’t think up an itinerary that fits into one of the 12 categories, "you’re not trying." This doesn’t mean you need to be deceptive or dishonest. Instead, you can build a trip around the broad and inclusive language of the new regulations. Be forthright about the reason of your trip, and be ready to show an itinerary in the unlikely event that an American customs worker asks you for one.

The categories all contain the qualifier that your time in Cuba will not "include free time or recreation in excess of that consistent with a full-time schedule."

The language is meant to discourage lolling on the beach and lazily sipping mojitos at your hotel bar. As long as you have productive plans that fall within your category of choice, you can honestly certify that your travel is legal, even if you take a couple of extra hours to absorb the view while visiting the historic Morro Castle.
Should flights between Houston and Havana ever become a reality, I think I will need to do some professional research on Havana's bus system, or its commuter rail network!

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