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Alaska Airlines’ First Flight to Cuba

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Photo by InSapphoWeTrust, Creative Commons Licensing.

This year marks the first time Alaska Airlines embarked on a historical commercial flight to Havana, Cuba, operating the only West Coast route authorized by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).

With the endorsement, the airlines have been given clearance to fly visitors daily from Los Angeles to the Caribbean nation, with a connecting service route to Seattle.

Alaska Airlines launched the inaugural Los Angeles-Havana commercial flight on January 5th, originating from the Los Angeles International Airport. Aside from commercial passengers, the fuel-efficient Boeing 737-900ER also carried a delegation of 50 business, educational, and political leaders from the states of California and Washington.

For a time, U.S. and Cuba severed diplomatic relations which caused regular commercial flights to be discontinued between the two nations. After more than half a century, the two nations agreed to commence scheduled air service with the signing of an agreement by the DOT and Cuban government representatives on February 2016. In a release, Secretary of Transportation Anthony Renard Foxx said that “restoring regular air service holds tremendous potential to reunite Cuban-American families and foster education and opportunities for American businesses of all sizes.”

Following the signing, around 20 air service routes were opened to U.S. airlines, including the West Coast route. DOT conducted a selection and reviewed applications submitted by 12 U.S.-based carriers. Alaska Airlines was among the eight selected by the federal government to operate daily flights.

According to the department, the plan is to offer nonstop service to U.S. aviation hubs and locations with a significant Cuban-American population.

The historical flight was seen as a sign of the warming up of relations between the U.S. and Cuba. This of course comes after the death of Fidel Castro, who would have never approved of such events. Travel by U.S. citizens for tourism purposes is still not allowed in the Caribbean nation. However, there are 12 authorized travel categories for those who are planning to visit Cuba. These categories include family visits, official U.S. government visits, journalistic activity, professional research, and educational activities, public performances, and humanitarian projects.

The opening of the first commercial routes to Cuba is expected to bring an influx of visitors from all over the U.S.

According to a working paper published by the International Monetary Fund, the opening of Cuba to the U.S. could potentially attract around 10 million tourists. In comparison, around 3.5 million foreign visitors flew to Cuba in 2015.

According to the Alaska Airlines blog, this was not the first time that the carrier flew to Cuba. In the early 1970s, the airlines flew U.S. Military Airlift Command charter flights to the U.S. base in Guantanamo Bay. At that time, the airlines was also operating various charter flights in the Caribbean region.