For the first time since the Cold War, Americans can travel to Cuba on commercial flights, thanks to an agreement reached on Thursday between Cuba's Foreign Ministry and the U.S. State Department. The agreement falls on the one-year anniversary of the day that the U.S. and Cuba formally agreed to normalize international relations after 50 years.
Josefina Vidal, the director of U.S. affairs at the Cuban Foreign Ministry, told Newsweek that both countries recently "obtained important advances in the negotiation."
While the deal could be finalized in the coming days, it would still have to be reviewed by the Federal Aviation Administration. Once approved, commercial flights between the U.S. and Cuba could resume in 2016.
U.S.-Cuban relations have dramatically improved since last year's reconciliation. For the first time in over 50 years, embassies were restored in Havana and Washington, and direct mail service is finally available between the U.S. and Cuba.
However, is still illegal for U.S. residents to travel to Cuba for tourism. The Cuban embargo also remains in place. It would take an act of Congress to remove it, something the Republican-controlled House and Senate firmly oppose. President Obama asked Congress to remove the embargo in 2015. Adding commercial flight service could be seen as an important step to eventually ending the embargo.
"This arrangement will continue to allow charter operations and establish scheduled air service, which will facilitate an increase in authorized travel, enhance traveler choices and promote people-to-people links between the two countries," according to an announcement from the State Department, as reported by CNN.
Currently, Americans are limited to charter services or traveling through a third country to get to Cuba. Both options have numerous complications and strict check-in regulations. Despite the difficulties, travel between the U.S. and Cuba grew by 50 percent in 2015.
The agreement would mean that Americans could book a trip to Cuba through an online portal and avoid the strict regulations of checking in for the flights. Once the deal is finalized, more than a dozen flights could arrive in the Cuba from the U.S. on a daily basis. JetBlue Airways Corp, American Airlines Group Inc, Delta Air Lines Incand United Continental Holdings Inc all expressed interest in sending commercial flights to Cuba.
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