With the U.S. and Cuban officials reaching an agreement to allow regularly scheduled commercial flights between the two countries, American Airlines said it is ready to fly routes in 2016.
The Fort Worth-based carrier has operated charter service to Cuba since 1991 and plans to apply for the new commercial routes to originate out of its Miami hub, although it could seek service from its other hub airports.
“We are really pleased about the opportunity to engage in scheduled service sometime in 2016 between the United States and Cuba,” said Howard Kass, the airline's vice president of regulatory affairs. “We look forward to filing our application with the [U.S. Department of Transportation] and we look forward to starting the service soon thereafter.”
Last week, American Airlines launched charter flights between Los Angeles and Havana. It already operates charters between Miami and Tampa to five Cuban cities: Camaguey, Cienfuegos, Havana, Holguin and Santa Clara.
American said it will operate about 1,200 charter flights to Cuba this year, which is up 9 percent from those in 2014. The carrier saw an increase in traffic to Cuba this year as the U.S. relaxed some of the travel restrictions to Cuba, allowing more educational and humanitarian trips to the island nation.
Even though commercial service will be allowed, Kass said Americans are still barred from traveling to Cuba purely as tourists under U.S. law. Travelers must meet special criteria and fall under 12 categories such as “people-to-people” trips that encourage relations between U.S. and Cuban citizens.
Kass said he expects the U.S. government will allow airlines to apply for 20 daily flights to Havana and then 10 daily flights at each of the other Cuban international airports. He said passenger traffic will likely initially come from U.S. citizens wanting to travel to Cuba.
“But as ties normalize and economic relations grow, I’m sure there will be traffic in both directions,” Kass said.