Traveling to Cuba just got easier, as the US lifted flight restrictions under Trump

IIt has become easier for Americans to travel to Cuba. On Wednesday, at the request of Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, the US Department of Transportation lifted civil aviation restrictions on flights between the US and Cuba that had been imposed during the Trump administration. These restrictions have prevented US commercial and charter flights from traveling to Cuban cities other than Havana.

“Scheduled and chartered air services between U.S. and Cuban airports may resume effective immediately,” Blinken wrote in a letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

But in practice, how easy it is to travel to Cuba on a leisure trip is a question mark. For Americans, the past decade has seen wide fluctuations in US foreign policy that have undermined travel rules.

President Obama began relaxing the rules for travel to Cuba in 2011. By mid-2010, leisure travelers could visit the island if their trip fell under specific categories, including “people to people” organized cultural group tours. Keep in mind that it was very difficult to find a place to stay, as American travelers were prevented from sponsoring businesses owned by the Cuban government, which owns most of the hotels in the country.

The easiest solution is to take a cruise. Cuba quickly became a hot stop for cruises offering shore excursions that ostensibly fell into the “people to people” category. While the largest cruise lines — Carnival Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean International, Norwegian Cruise Line, and MSC Cruises — have docked in Havana, a number of smaller upscale cruise operators have created more Cuba-centric itineraries to make calls to smaller cities such as Cienfuegos, a colonial center on the south coast, and Santiago de Cuba, the island’s second largest city. By 2018, more than a dozen cruise lines were bringing approximately 800,000 passengers to Cuba annually.

In 2019, the Trump administration dramatically rolled back recreational travel to Cuba by banning commercial and charter flights from the United States to Cuban cities other than Havana. US cruise ships were denied stopovers in Cuba and the “people-to-people” class of travel was abolished.

Killing “people to people” trips meant that while Americans could travel to Havana legally, they had to look for another category – family visits, professional trips, religious or humanitarian work, or what became the most popular option, a category called “support for the Cuban people.” . For the latter, travelers need to demonstrate that their plans include activities such as meeting with local business owners, visiting museums or galleries, and dining at locally owned restaurants and markets – it’s not always easy to arrange without a tour operator or guide, no matter what the issue. It is on the banned list.

Now the Biden administration is trying to turn back the clock. Two weeks ago, officials announced initial steps to reopen limited leisure travel to Cuba. “We will certainly ensure that travel is purposeful and compliant with US law,” a senior White House official said. “We are bringing mass educational travel between individuals under a general license.”

After a year of anti-government protests in Cuba, the Biden administration says facilitating travel is key to building bridges between cultures. “We will note something President Biden has said often, which is his belief that Americans are the best ambassadors of democratic values,” the White House official said. Facilitating mass travel between individuals will allow greater engagement among the American people and advance their democratic values. “

But going forward, once shy travel companies will need to be more aware of what counts as legitimate “people-to-people” travel rather than stationary tourism.

In March 2022, a federal judge dismissed allegations from the four largest cruise companies – Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and MSC – that they had engaged in legal travel in Cuba. In a 169-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom, Obama-appointed in South Florida, concluded that cruise lines offered excursions that “constituted tourism rather than appropriate activities among people, and paid millions of dollars to Cubans. The government should engage in Unauthorized travel” while docked in Havana, says weekly travel.

It remains to be seen how quickly and enthusiastically cruise lines and tour operators will bring back cruises to Cuba this time around, given the way the rug has been pulled on it before, and with the 2024 US presidential election on the horizon.

Leave a Comment