Travel Agents In The Spotlight As Commercial Flights To Cuba Begin
PHOTO: Cuba braces for influx of American visitors. (Photo by David Cogswell)
The historic first commercial airline flight from American soil to Cuba in more than 50 years on Aug. 31 has put travel agents squarely back in the spotlight.
JetBlue Airways, one of six U.S.-based airlines approved to offer regularly scheduled commercial flights to the island after the Obama Administration restored diplomatic ties in 2014, is flying the first of its three weekly flights from Fort Lauderdale to Santa Clara on Wednesday.
The airlines were approved to fly to nine Cuban cities other than Havana – Camagüey,
But hold on; there are barriers still. And few are as equipped to get travelers around them than travel agents.
“Let’s not forget there’s still an embargo,” Erika Richter, senior manager of communications and government affairs for the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), told TravelPulse.com. “This is not a one-stop shopping kind of booking. You have to fit one of the 12 categories (for approval to visit), you have to prove you have health insurance as mandated by the Cuban government … you have to have a lot of things in place. The paperwork for one flight is incredible.”
And this offers another opportunity for travel agents to shine. ASTA updated its regulatory compliance handbook to reflect all that is needed for agents to help their customers complete the lengthy process.
“Using a travel agent will always be the best option and, of course, I am biased,” Richter said. “But that is especially so with this destination.”
Richter said that many agents are prepared and armed with information from decades of visits to Cuba through charter flights.
READ MORE: Can Cuba Keep Up With US Tourism?
Here is a list of U.S.-based airlines approved for flights to Cuba. Beginning with JetBlue’s inaugural flight, these will be rolled out over the next four months.
Aug. 31: Three weekly flights from Fort Lauderdale to Santa Clara
Oct. 1: One daily flight from Fort Lauderdale to Santa Clara
Nov. 3: One daily flight from Fort Lauderdale to Camagüey
Nov. 10: One daily flight from Fort Lauderdale to Holguín
Sept. 7: One daily flight from Miami to Holguín and Cienfuegos
Sept. 9: One daily flight from Miami to Camaguey and Santa Clara
Sept. 11: One daily flight from Miami to Varadero
TBA: Two daily flights from Fort Lauderdale to Varadero
TBA: One daily flight from Tampa to Santa Clara
Oct. 27: Daily flights from Chicago O’Hare to Santiago de Cuba
Dec. 15: Four weekly flights from Philadelphia to Camaguey
Dec. 15: Three weekly flights from Philadelphia to Santa Clara
Jan. 7: One weekly flight each from Chicago O’Hare and Philadelphia to Varadero.
Sept. 8: Daily flight from Fort Lauderdale to Santa Clara
Sept. 22: Five weekly flights from Fort Lauderdale to Camagüey
Oct. 6: Two weekly flights from Fort Lauderdale to Cienfuegos
Oct. 20: Daily flight from Fort Lauderdale to Holguín
Nov. 3: Daily flight from Fort Lauderdale to Santiago de Cuba
Nov. 17: Three weekly flights from Fort Lauderdale to Cayo Coco
Dec. 1: Four weekly flights from Fort Lauderdale to Varadero
Dec. 8: One weekly flight from Fort Lauderdale to Cayo Largo del Sur
Dec. 15: Three weekly flights from Fort Lauderdale to Manzanillo
SUN COUNTRY AIRLINES
TBA: One weekly flight from Minneapolis to Varadero
TBA: One weekly flight from Minneapolis to Santa Clara
Alaska Airlines, American, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit and United are awaiting final government approval on routes and schedules to Havana.
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