Stricter charter policy to further squeeze Cuba travel options

Stricter charter policy to further squeeze Cuba travel options

The Department of Transportation will halt all charter
flights between the U.S. and Cuban destinations other than Havana following a
60-day wind-down period. The DOT will also impose a cap on public
charter flights to Havana.

The moves, announced Friday and taken at the request of Secretary
of State Mike Pompeo, follows the Trump administration’s ban on commercial
flights to Cuba destinations outside of Havana
, which went into effect last
month. Public U.S. charter
flights currently fly to nine airports in Cuba.

Pompeo said that the new restrictions are designed to
prevent charter service from expanding to fill the service gaps left by the
commercial flight ban on secondary Cuba airports.

“Today’s action will further restrict the Cuban regime’s
ability to obtain revenue, which it uses to finance its ongoing repression of
the Cuban people and its unconscionable support for dictator Nicolas Maduro in
Venezuela,” Pompeo said in a statement.

Pompeo did not reveal specifics about the upcoming cap on
public charter flights to Havana, but he said the DOT will issue an order in
the near future that proposes procedures for implementing the cap. 

These latest restrictions will further reduce the
flexibility tour operators have in designing Cuba itineraries, though specific
itineraries often won’t be impacted. For example, Cultural
Cuba flies all of its U.S. clients in an out of Havana on commercial flights,
founder David Lee said.

Conversely, Insight Cuba’s 10-day Undiscovered Cuba tour
uses charter-only service for travel from Miami to Cuba at the start of the
itinerary and for the return to Miami from Holguin in eastern Cuba at the end
of the itinerary.

In a press release Friday, tour operator Cuba
Educational Travel (CET) called the policy change “another step backwards,
negatively affecting Cubans on the island and their families in the U.S.”

“Canceling these flights might take cents out of Cuban
government accounts, but it takes dollars out of Cuban pockets, food off the
table of Cuban families and once again tries to divide the Cuban family for
domestic political gains,” said CET president Collin Laverty.

This report was updated Friday evening with comments from tour operators.

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