HAVANA TIMES — US citizens wanting to book a regular flight online to Cuba, impossible for decades, may soon be a reality. Representative of the US and Cuban governments will meet next week in Havana to study the restoration of regular commercial flights, the White House confirmed to dpa news on Tuesday.
“A delegation from the US government will meet with its Cuban counterpart to try and advance the establishment of regular commercial flights between the two countries and discuss aviation security.” The White House official said the meeting will be held in Havana on September 28 and 29.
While strictly tourist trips to the island are still banned b the US embargo, last week the US government eased travel restrictions imposed by the US legislation and imposed on the island since the 60’s.
The measure is part of the process of normalization of relations between the two countries.
“Increased travel to Cuba is a central objective of the new policy of president Obama,” said the White House representative who requested anonymity. “It will mean that Americans can more easily help the growth of civil society in Cuba and provide training for private entrepreneurs and small farmers,” he added.
Currently, those US citizens authorized to travel to the island can only do so on several charter flights. A number of US airlines have expressed interest to add Cuba to their destinations on regular commercial flights.
The US State Department said in August that travel to Cuba from the US increased by 35 percent since January.
“We are ready to offer regularly scheduled service as soon as the United States and Cuba allow commercial flights,” Art Torno, Vice President of American Airlines International and Cargo said back in August.
It is currently not possible to travel from the US to the island on a regular commercial flight of a US airline and book a ticket on the website of the airlines.
Cuban Americans with family in Cuba and US citizens authorized to travel to the island can reserve seats on charter flights through travel agencies authorized by Washington.
Since 2009, Cuban Americans can travel to the island to see their relatives without restrictions. In 2011 trips were extended to a limited number of other US citizens, such as family members, journalists, government officials, religious and humanitarian workers as well as different types of “people to people” educational, cultural, and professional group tours.
Since January of this year, following the easing of some aspects of the embargo, US citizens who fall within the 12 categories do not need to request permission from US authorities to travel to the island.
The US and Cuba resumed diplomatic relations on July 20th after 54 years of confrontation.
United Airlines is looking to expand its footprint in China. The carrier said on Tuesday it is seeking regulatory approval to begin seasonal flights between its San Francisco hub and the interior Chinese city of Xi’an.
If approved, United says it would be the first U.S. carrier to serve Xi’an and the first-ever to offer a trans-Pacific route from the city. United has proposed seasonal service between the cities, saying it would fly three times a week on Boeing 787-8 “Dreamliner” aircraft. The service would operate from mid-May through late October.
“We are excited by the prospect of using the game-changing 787 to make Xi’an a new trans-Pacific gateway for China,” Jim Compton, United’s chief revenue officer, says in a statement. “Assuming our application is approved, we will offer our customers unique non-stop flights between one of China’s most vibrant cities and the U.S. West Coast, with fast and easy connections via our San Francisco hub to destinations throughout the Americas.”
Xi’an would become United’s 11th nonstop route to the Asia/Pacific region out of its hub in San Francisco. United says it “already operates more non-stop China-U.S. flights, and from more cities in China, than any other airline.”
The 787-8s that United would fly on the San Francisco-Xi’an route seat 219, including 36 in business class, 70 in Economy Plus and 113 in standard coach.
United projects the flight time on the route to be about 12 hours, 5 minutes, eastbound and about 13 hours, 5 minutes, westbound. China-bound flights would operate Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday, leaving San Francisco at 1:25 p.m. and landing in Xi’an at 5:30 p.m. the next day (all times local). The return would leave Xi’an on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 10:30 a.m., arriving to San Francisco at 7:35 a.m. the same day, all times local.
UNITED on 22SEP15 filed an application to the US Department of Transportation, seeking approval to operate San Francisco – Xi’An route. The Star Alliance member intends to operate this route 3 times a week, using Boeing 787-8. Subject to Approval, first flight for this seasonal service is tentatively scheduled on 08MAY16.
Proposed schedule as follow.
UA853 SFO1325 – 1730+1XIY 788 247
UA852 XIY1030 – 0735SFO 788 246