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Agreement allows U.S. airlines to apply for flights to Cuba

Kevin Mase, an American Airlines chief pilot, drapes a Cuban flag from an AA Boeing 737 on Dec. 16, 2015 -- the day the United States and Cuba said they had reached an agreement on restoring commercial air service between the two countries. (Photo courtesy American Airlines/TNS)
Kevin Mase, an American Airlines chief pilot, drapes a Cuban flag from an AA Boeing 737 on Dec. 16, 2015 -- the day the United States and Cuba said they had reached an agreement on restoring commercial air service between the two countries. (Photo courtesy American Airlines/TNS) TNS

American Airlines and Southwest Airlines, along with several other U.S. airlines, are vying for the chance to fly to Cuba.

On Tuesday, U.S. and Cuban officials agreed to allow commercial flights to resume between the two countries, and the Department of Transportation started the process for U.S. airlines to begin bidding on slots.

The agreement allows for 20 daily flights between the U.S. and Havana and an additional 10 daily flights between the U.S. and each of nine other Cuban airports, for a total of up to 110 daily flights. Carriers have until March 2 to submit applications, with responses due March 14 and additional comments by March 21.

“We are excited to announce the availability of new scheduled air service opportunities to Cuba for U.S. carriers, shippers, and the traveling public, and we will conduct this proceeding in a manner designed to maximize public benefits,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

Fort Worth-based American Airlines said it plans to apply for scheduled service to Cuba, primarily with flights from its hub in Miami. It is also considering applying for Cuba service from other hubs, including Dallas/Fort Worth.

“American Airlines commends the U.S. government for its commitment to re-establishing cultural and economic ties between the U.S. and Cuba, and for laying the groundwork to restore scheduled air service between the two countries for the first time in more than 50 years,” said American’s chief executive Doug Parker.

American operated about 1,200 charter flights to Cuba in 2015 and has offered charter service to Cuba for 25 years. It currently offers charter flights between Los Angeles and Havana and charters from Miami and Tampa to five Cuban cities: Camaguey, Cienfuegos, Havana, Holguin and Santa Clara.

The Transportation Department said it plans to reach a final decision quickly on which carriers will be allowed to serve Cuba. The agency said it will consider the proposals that will offer the “best service to the traveling and shipping public.”

Dallas-based Southwest said it also plans to look at possibly serving Cuba.

“We’re excited about the possibility of bringing Southwest’s low fares and legendary customer service to flights between Cuba and our existing network of 97 cities across eight countries,” Southwest spokesman Brad Hawkins said. “Today’s signed agreement allows us to engage in a process to consider that service.”

Both Delta Air Lines and United Airlines intend to file applications to fly to Cuba. Last year, Delta operated a charter flight that flew the Minnesota Orchestra from Minneapolis to Havana for a series of performances in Cuba.

“The U.S. Transportation Department is expected to notify applying airlines by summer which frequencies and routes are approved,” said Delta vice president of network planning Joe Esposito. “In the meantime Delta is diligently preparing to serve the market.”

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