Stricter charter policy to further squeeze Cuba travel options

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Stricter charter policy to further squeeze Cuba travel options
Photo Credit: Novikov Aleksey/Shutterstock

The Department of Transportation will halt all charter flights between the U.S. and Cuban destinations other than Havana following a 60-day wind-down period. The DOT will also impose a cap on public charter flights to Havana.

The moves, announced Friday and taken at the request of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, follows the Trump administration’s ban on commercial flights to Cuba destinations outside of Havana, which went into effect last month. Public U.S. charter flights currently fly to nine airports in Cuba.

Pompeo said that the new restrictions are designed to prevent charter service from expanding to fill the service gaps left by the commercial flight ban on secondary Cuba airports.

“Today’s action will further restrict the Cuban regime’s ability to obtain revenue, which it uses to finance its ongoing repression of the Cuban people and its unconscionable support for dictator Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela,” Pompeo said in a statement.

Pompeo did not reveal specifics about the upcoming cap on public charter flights to Havana, but he said the DOT will issue an order in the near future that proposes procedures for implementing the cap. 

These latest restrictions will further reduce the flexibility tour operators have in designing Cuba itineraries, though specific itineraries often won’t be impacted. For example, Cultural Cuba flies all of its U.S. clients in an out of Havana on commercial flights, founder David Lee said.

Conversely, Insight Cuba’s 10-day Undiscovered Cuba tour uses charter-only service for travel from Miami to Cuba at the start of the itinerary and for the return to Miami from Holguin in eastern Cuba at the end of the itinerary.

In a press release Friday, tour operator Cuba Educational Travel (CET) called the policy change “another step backwards, negatively affecting Cubans on the island and their families in the U.S.”

“Canceling these flights might take cents out of Cuban government accounts, but it takes dollars out of Cuban pockets, food off the table of Cuban families and once again tries to divide the Cuban family for domestic political gains,” said CET president Collin Laverty.
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This report was updated Friday evening with comments from tour operators.

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