American Airlines and JetBlue have received final approval from the Cuban government to begin commercial airline service to several airports on the island, clearing the last hurdle for inaugural flights from Miami and Fort Lauderdale.
JetBlue, with a flight scheduled to Santa Clara from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Aug. 31, gets the distinction as the first regularly scheduled flight to Cuba in more than 50 years, and American Airlines will follow up the next week with commercial airline service from Miami International Airport beginning Sept. 7.
At this point, JetBlue has only received the green light for its flights to Santa Clara, but it also hopes to begin service to Holgu?n and Camag?ey in November.
American, which plans twice-daily flights to Holgu?n, Santa Clara and Varadero and daily fights to Camag?ey and Cienfuegos, has received Cuban government approval to land and take off from all five Cuban airports. In all, it will be offering 56 weekly flights to Cuba.
American, JetBlue and other airlines have applied to the U.S. Department of Transportation to fly 20 daily routes to Havana, but so far DOT has only granted preliminary approval for the routes. Final DOT approval is expected later this year, and then Cuba?s Civil Aviation Institute must also give its OK.
Frontier, Silver Airways, Southwest Airlines and Sun Country Airlines also have won DOT approval for non-Havana routes.
?We?ve been hard at work to make sure we?re Cuba-ready,? American spokeswoman Martha Pantin said Thursday ? the day American received the paperwork on its flight approvals.
That includes shipping computers, signage and other equipment to all five Cuban airports American will serve to handle check-ins and to train Cuban employees who will be processing passengers. Pantin said that since early August, American has been training the Cubans on its check-in procedures and systems at training facilities set up at the five airports.
JetBlue also has begun training personnel at the airport in Santa Clara.
Although charter flights have carried passengers to and from Cuba for decades ? many times on aircraft leased from JetBlue, American and other airlines ? the new era of commercial air service will bring somewhat different procedures for passengers.
The first and perhaps biggest change will be in baggage policies. Passengers on Cuba charters have grown used to liberal baggage policies, and passengers with luggage carts piled high with televisions, household goods and shrink-wrapped packages are a common sight at airports where the charters embark.
But with scheduled service, Pantin said, there will be restrictions on overweight, oversize and excess baggage. In general, passengers will be permitted no more than 100 pounds of baggage and no boxes or oversized baggage will be permitted.