Last updated: 03:30 PM ET, Tue June 28 2016

Copa Airlines Can Take You To Cuba Right Now

Airlines & Airports | Josh Lew | June 28, 2016

Copa Airlines Can Take You To Cuba Right Now

Photo courtesy of Copa Airlines

Tickets for the first commercial flights between the United States and Cuba are now on sale, and the the first flights are tentatively scheduled to take off at the beginning of September. In the meantime, there are other ways to get to Cuba, including one that few people in the U.S. seem to be aware of.  

Direct flights between the two countries are limited to charters. Ironically, these flights are often operated by the same airlines that are vying for the limited number of commercial slots that are available in Cuba. For example, both JetBlue and American Airlines are active on U.S.-Cuba charter routes. 

Taking a commercial flight to Cuba right now

The other option involves connecting in another country. Panama’s Copa Airlines is especially invested in this particular market. In fact, even as U.S.-based airlines gear up for their inaugural flights, Copa is adding Cuba routes and touting them as a way for Americans to get to the formerly off-limits island right now. 

Copa currently has seven daily flights between Panama and Havana. It also flies to Santa Clara four times per week. Its latest route is a twice weekly service between Panama City and the historic resort hub of Holguin.

Read More: How Hot Is Travel To Cuba Right Now 

A longer trip, but no need to book a charter flight

The advantage for U.S.-based fliers is that they don’t have to rely on expensive and hard-to-find charter flights to get to Cuba. The obvious disadvantage is that they have to put up with a longer flight and a connection in Panama City.  

This is not a big deal for fliers from the West Coast or even the Midwest. However, for those on the East Coast and especially in Miami, which is famously only 90 miles away from Cuba, the Copa detour would add a lot of travel time onto the journey. 

Could Copa be relevant after U.S. commercial flights start?

Fliers headed to Cuba from Los Angeles, San Francisco and even Chicago, all cities served by Copa, would certainly consider the airline an option now and perhaps even after commercial flights have started. Maybe the Panama-based carrier is hoping that U.S. service will be focused on Florida and the East Coast. If there is limited availability for direct Cuba flights for West Coast and Midwest travelers, then there could still be demand for connecting flights to Cuba from Panama for American travelers. 

Though the U.S. is a large market for Copa, the airline serves other destinations in the Americas. It operates more than 300 flights per day, on average, through its “Hub of the Americas” at Panama’s Tocumen International Airport. 

Read More: JetBlue Announces Plans For First Three Cuba Routes

A viable option throughout the Americas

Ideally, the tourism investment that should come to Cuba as it tries to cater to the influx of U.S.-based tourists will make the island nation more popular to people throughout the Americas as both a business and travel destination.

Copa also has its on-time performance going for it. Its current 91.6 percent on-time rating makes it the world’s second most punctual airline. So even if their connection at Tocumen adds time onto their overall trip, there is a good chance that fliers going from the U.S. to Cuba won’t face any delays during their trip.

Until September at least, American travelers who are legally able to visit Cuba can use Copa to fly commercially to the island. At the very least, this will prove easier than organizing a charter flight, especially for people who want to travel independently or as part of a small group that is not relying on an package tour.  

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