Commercial Flights Could Connect Miami to Havana Within a Few Months

On October 19, 1927, this plane — called La Nina — made the first Pan Am flight between Key West and Havana.
On October 19, 1927, this plane — called La Nina — made the first Pan Am flight between Key West and Havana.

Update 9:30 a.m.: The State Department confirms to New Times that it reached an official agreement last night with Cuba on re-establishing commercial flights. "This arrangement will continue to allow charter operations and establish scheduled air service, which will facilitate an increase in authorized travel, enhance traveler choices, and promote people-to-people links between the two countries," the State Department says.

Miami is closer to Havana than it is to any major U.S. city but for the past five decades, traveling those 230 miles south has been anything but routine. Even if you could snag a hard-to-get visa to get around the U.S. ban on spending any cash in Cuba, commercial aviation was banned. Only expensive and irregular charter flights have linked the two cities. 

That's all about to change. Last night, Cuba's foreign ministry said that news is likely any day on a new agreement for big airlines to re-establish regular flights between the U.S. and the island.

"(We) have made important advances in negotiating a memorandum of understanding on establishing regular flights between Cuba and the United States, and shortly they will be ready to announce a preliminary agreement," Josefina Vidal, head of North American affairs for Cuba's foreign ministry, tells the Associated Press.

The news comes on the one-year anniversary of President Obama's move to restore diplomatic ties with Cuba. Although the embargo is still in effect, Obama's move made it far easier for travelers to get permission to visit Havana.  

Whenever the U.S. and Cuba finalize their agreement, flights from big airlines could resume within a matter of months. Instead of booking charters that routinely cost $500 to $700 for the hour-long flight, the Americans and Southwests of the world will likely have multiple MIA flights daily for a fraction of that price.

The move could also reopen one of the more romantic chapters in Florida's aviation history: The puddle-jump flights from Key West to Havana, which is just 110 miles away. Regular flights there started in 1921 on Aeromarine, writes David Harrison Wright, a Key West maritime artist and historian. The planes had open cockpits and cages full of carrier pigeons under the wings, which the pilots would toss out midair with messages back to Key West. 

Pan Am started its Key West flights in 1927, according to archival photos from the Florida Keys Library. Gerardo Machado, then Cuba's president, tagged along for that first flight.

Officials pose before Pan Am's first Key West to Havana flight in 1927, including Gerardo Machado, then Cuba's president.
Officials pose before Pan Am's first Key West to Havana flight in 1927, including Gerardo Machado, then Cuba's president.
Florida Keys Public Libraries

Of course, resuming commercial aviation to Cuba could have downsides as well — Cuba's tourism sector is already overloaded and if U.S. tourists began really pouring into Havana, it could spark a crisis. 

New Times has requested more information on a timetable on the negotiations from the U.S. State Department. We'll update this post when we hear back.

Update: The State Department says the agreement is official with Cuba. Here's a statement: 


On December 16, the United States and Cuba reached a bilateral arrangement to establish scheduled air services between the two countries. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Transportation Affairs Thomas Engle led the U.S. interagency delegation, and Ambassador Yuri Gala Lopez led the Cuban delegation.

This arrangement will continue to allow charter operations and establish scheduled air service, which will facilitate an increase in authorized travel, enhance traveler choices, and promote people-to-people links between the two countries.

While U.S. law continues to prohibit travel to Cuba for tourist activities, a stronger civil aviation relationship will facilitate growth in authorized travel between our two countries—a critical component of the President’s policy toward Cuba. 

  


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