US approves flights to Cuba for 6 airlines

6 U.S. airlines get approval for scheduled flights to Cuba
6 U.S. airlines get approval for scheduled flights to Cuba

The United States approved flights to Cuban cities other than Havana for six airlines Friday, in a continuing détente between the two countries. Until now, flights to Cuba from the U.S. had been limited to charter services.

American Airlines will offer nonstop service from Miami, home to the largest Cuban community in the United States.

Southwest Airlines, JetBlue and Silver Airways will fly to Cuba from nearby Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Frontier will start offering flights from Chicago and Philadelphia. And for the traveler who wants to fly to Cuba from Minneapolis, Sun Country Airlines will offer flights.

"For avid travelers – that means 155 weekly trips," Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx said. "It is an exciting time in American history as we continue to make inroads toward safe, scheduled passenger and cargo flights to Cuba.

According to the Department of Transportation, the nine Cuban cities that will receive service are: Camagüey, Cayo Coco, Cayo Largo, Cienfuegos, Holguín, Manzanillo, Matanzas, Santa Clara, and Santiago de Cuba. The department says it needs more time to work out logistics for flights to Havana, the nation's capital.

"Collectively, U.S. carriers have requested nearly 60 flights per day to Havana, thus requiring Transportation officials to select from among the proposals. A decision on the Havana routes will be announced later this summer," Secretary of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement announcing the new routes.

"Last year, President Obama announced that it was time to 'begin a new journey' with the Cuban people," Foxx said. "Today, we are delivering on his promise by relaunching scheduled air service to Cuba after more than half a century."

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President Barack Obama began normalizing relations with the officially communist Cuba at the end of 2014. At the time, those considerd to be the Republican presidential front-runners such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., heavily condemned the move. Republican candidates not from Florida, such as Scott Walker, were critical as well.

"Cuba is a dictatorship with a disastrous human rights record, and now President Obama has rewarded those dictators. We should instead be fostering efforts that will truly lead to the fair, legitimate democracy that will ultimately prevail in Cuba," Bush said.

But the issue has receded from the forefront of national debate and has not become a major issue in the 2016 campaign.

Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump has said he is "fine" with the new U.S.-Cuban relationship. Presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, in a rare area of agreement, also supports the move.