MIAMI — U.S. airlines will launch regularly scheduled commercial flights to Havana on Monday, just in time for the start of funeral services for the island's former leader Fidel Castro.
Castro, who controlled the communist island for more than five decades in part by railing against America's capitalist ideals, died Friday. In his final years, the aging, retired Castro was forced to watch as his brother, Raúl, re-established diplomatic relations with the U.S. and welcomed President Obama to the island.
Starting Monday, that new relationship will take another step as American Airlines runs a short, one-hour flight from Miami to Havana, the first regularly scheduled commercial route to the Cuban capital.
That plane will soon be followed by flights operated by United, JetBlue, Delta, Spirit, Frontier, Alaska and Southwest, which will start offering Havana flights from different U.S. airports in the coming weeks.
The new flights are one of the most tangible changes following the decision by Obama and Raúl Castro in December 2014 to normalize relations after more than 50 years of antagonistic isolation. Before, flights between the two countries were operated by charter companies that faced rigid limitations from both governments, making travel expensive and cumbersome.
That changed when the two countries agreed to re-establish regularly scheduled commercial flights, allowing travelers to quickly — and more cheaply — book their trips online.
The first of those flights launched in August, providing round-trip service between several U.S. cities and Cuban cities not including Havana. JetBlue operated the first of those flights on Aug. 31 between Fort Lauderdale and Santa Clara. U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx rode along, and Cuban officials welcomed the flight with a water cannon salute on the tarmac and a ceremony inside the airport.
Aviation officials in both countries wanted to start off with those smaller cities before opening up Havana, the busiest and most popular destination on the island. American will start things off with the 7:30 a.m. flight. They will be followed by airlines flying to Havana from the following U.S. cities:
- Alaska Airlines will operate direct flights from Los Angeles and one-stop flights from Seattle.
- Delta Airlines will run direct flights from Atlanta, New York JFK and Miami.
- Frontier Airlines will operate direct flights from Miami and one-stop flights from Denver and Las Vegas.
- JetBlue will fly direct from New York JFK, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando.
- Southwest Airlines will operate direct flights from Fort Lauderdale and Tampa.
- Spirit Airlines will run direct flights from Fort Lauderdale.
- United Airlines will fly direct from Houston and Newark.