Direct flights between Havana and the United States are beginning this month, after more than half a century of no direct connections between the two places. If you're interested in coming to Cuba, I recommend coming as soon as you possibly can, before the new U.S. presidency ushers in possible changes to Cuba policy. As for now, it's still legal for Americans to come to Cuba, so long as you follow the rules (see my previous blog post on how to travel here legally). And these new direct flights will make it easier than ever to get here.
I’ve checked the rates, and they look almost too good to be true — direct flights between Havana and various Florida cities from $130 round trip sound like a dream after the nightmare of charter flights that we’ve endured. Between late November and early January, about a half dozen U.S.-based airlines will be offering direct flights to Havana from several cities in Florida, New York City, Atlanta, and Los Angeles. I’m particularly jazzed about the Alaska Airlines flight from LAX, which will connect my native Southern California with Cuba — and with prices of less than $500 round trip, my California friends and family will have no excuse not to visit us!
In addition to boosting tourism to Cuba, these flights are a big deal for those of us who live here. For a few privileged Cubans and the expats in Cuba, they also mean that it will be easier to buy stuff. As crazy as it is, we have Cuban friends who make trips to Miami, Panama, and Mexico to stock up on supplies for their businesses (everything from cupcake liners to kitchen utensils). I’ve had expat friends who have gone grocery shopping in the U.S., bringing back ground beef in coolers from Whole Foods, sacks of flour, and frozen berries, to name just a few items. When friends or family visit us, they usually get a long shopping list from us, which usually include parmesan cheese, coffee, and other items that we either can’t find, are of poor quality, or are more expensive in Cuba.
Given that Cuba is only 90 miles away from the United States, you’d think that it would be an easy hop to get here, but that hasn’t been the case for decades. Before the Revolution, of course, flights between Cuba and U.S. were common and aplenty. I discovered an advertisement for such direct flights in the pages of an old social registry that I was thumbing through at a friend's home recently. Another friend, a Cuban woman in her late 70s, told me that her parents used to fly to Miami for quick shopping and lunch excursions in the 1950s with round trip tickets costing less than $30. Since direct flights ceased between the countries in the early 1960s, it’s been complicated. I have a friend here whose method of conveyance to the U.S. once included a ship that had brought Canadian cattle to Cuba. She caught the ship for the ride back up to Nova Scotia, then took a flight from there to the U.S.
Even during our time, it hasn’t been easy. We’ve only been back twice to the United States, and each time we’ve had to board a special charter flight, which requires special permission and a lot of paperwork. Charter flights to Miami usually cost $500 round trip, and though they’re supposed to be a quick 45-minute hop, it usually takes at least half a day with the painfully slow check-in process and delays figured in. Friends and family who’ve come to visit us have usually flown through Mexico City or Cancun, but with the transfers, it usually takes about 12 hours. (That’s the same amount of time it takes to get China, where we used to live.) And while officially direct flights between the U.S. and Cuba began in September, they have so far only landed in cities other than Havana, making them inconvenient for Habaneros like us and American tourists, whose primary interest is likely Havana.
Here’s a quick look at the airlines and flights that will soon be offered:
Alaska Airlines: LAX to Havana beginning January 5th https://www.alaskaair.com/content/cities/flights-to/cuba.aspx
This page also includes lots of helpful visitor to Cuba information — including bring all the cash you will need for your trip (since Cuban ATMs don’t work with American banks)
American Airlines: Miami, FL to Havana beginning November 28th
Delta: Miami, NYC (JFK), Atlanta to Havana beginning Dec 1
Frontier Airlines: Miami to Havana beginning December 1 https://www.flyfrontier.com/news/posts/2016/septemeber/frontier-airlines-announces-schedule-to-havana-cuba/
JetBlue: JFK, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale to Havana beginning Nov 28 https://www.jetblue.com/flights/cuba
Spirit Airlines: Fort Lauderdale, Fla to Havana beginning Dec 1st http://ir.spirit.com/releasedetail.cfm?releaseid=987382
Southwest Airlines: Fort Lauderdale, FL and Tampa, FL to Havana beginning Dec 12
Fort Lauderdale to Havana costs as low as $130 round trip https://www.southwest.com/html/promotions/new-service-cuba.html