U.S. airlines such as American and JetBlue have been flying charters to Cuba for an extended period but now the Obama administration is hoping to renew scheduled service between the U.S. and Cuba as soon as December.
That’s according to The Wall Street Journal, which reported that U.S. officials proposed to the Cubans in March that any U.S. should be allowed to serve the island “as much as it wishes.”
While that sounds over the top and perhaps was merely an opening volley in negotiations, the Cuban government recently issued a counter-proposal and requested a meeting to discuss the issue in Havana, according to the story.
A critical question would be whether the Cuban government-owned airline, Cubana de Aviación, would be able to fly to the U.S. as the Obama administration hopes to strike a deal with the Cuban government before — or without — Congressional action to lift the travel ban and embargo, the Wall Street Journal reported.
It is highly doubtful that Cuba would welcome flights from U.S. carriers without some reciprocity for its state-owned airline.
The fast-moving developments occur as the Obama administration eased restrictions on U.S. citizens’ travel to Cuba in January, and last week the U.S. re-opened its embassy in Havana, which was shuttered in 1961. The Cuban flag was raised at the U.S. State Department, as well.
Under the eased restrictions, U.S. travel to Cuba is up around 40 percent so far this year, and U.S. airlines, hotels and cruise lines are anxious to restart operations in Cuba once the embargo is lifted.
In addition to negotiating with Cuba over the resumption of scheduled air service, the Obama administration is also studying ways to further remove roadblocks to U.S. citizen travel to Cuba, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The U.S. administration, knowing it will face a stiff fight in Congress, hopes to create enough facts on the ground in Cuba, with travel companies and U.S. businesses anxious to renew ties, that it would be very difficult for a new President to overturn the overtures to Cuba should a Republican win the 2016 presidential contest.