A year after President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro announced plans to normalize relations between the US and Cuba—and six months after we visited Cuba ourselves to see what the country would look like before the inevitable onslaught of tourists—the US Department of State announced yesterday that commercial air travel would soon resume between the two countries, long separated by the Cold War despite our relative proximity to the island nation.
"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," read a State Department press release. Thomas Hengle, the lead US negotiator in the arrangement, expanded on that press release, saying that the US anticipated eventually offering 110 regularly scheduled flights per day, including 20 to the capital city of Havana and 10 to each of Cuba’s nine other international airports.
United Airlines greeted the news with a press release of its own, stating: "We look forward to offering service between our global gateways and Cuba as soon as we have approval to do so." Houston's Intercontinental Airport is the largest passenger carrying hub for the airline, which had previously announced back in January its intention to begin offering commercial flights to Cuba via Houston if and when the commercial travel ban was lifted.
Worth noting is the fact that regular tourist travel to Cuba is still currently and will continue to be prohibited. So how does a regular Joe visit the cigar-and-old-car-capital of the world? We don't suggest sneaking in, as was often low-key encouraged in the past; instead, request approval from the US under one of the 12 categories of travel currently approved for American citizens: business, cultural exchange, journalism, professional research, athletic competition, and academic, humanitarian or religious work. Once approved for travel, you can charter a flight until IAH starts offering that non-stop service to Havana. Fingers crossed.