JetBlue expands service to Cuba
TODAY IN THE SKY
Nancy Trejos, USA TODAY 4 a.m. EDT July 3, 2015
TAMPA — Michael Vaughan has been flying commercial planes for more than
17 years, but on a recent Friday, he was entering new territory.
Vaughan was flying a JetBlue Airways Airbus A320 from Tampa to Havana
for the first time. The veteran pilot, who is based in Boston but has a
home in Tampa, requested the assignment.
“It will be neat to say that I at least touched ground,” said the former
As the United States resumes diplomatic relations with Cuba for the
first time in nearly 50 years, airlines are seizing the opportunity to
deliver Americans to an island nation that has for the most part been a
mystery to them. The Obama administration has eased travel restrictions
to Cuba, allowing Americans who fall under 12 approved categories to
visit the island. This week, President Obama announced that the USA and
Cuba have agreed to open embassies in each other’s countries.
Americans still can’t go to Cuba strictly for tourism. And U.S. airlines
are still not allowed to sell tickets for Cuba flights, but they can
operate the aircraft. Airlines such as JetBlue and American have teamed
up with charter companies to sell seats. The charter companies are
licensed by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.
JetBlue has been flying to Cuba via charter companies since 2011, when
Obama took the first steps to lift travel restrictions by allowing
Americans to visit Cuba on authorized people-to-people tours.
The airline already operates a total of four weekly round-trip flights
between Florida and the Cuban destinations of Havana and Santa Clara in
Cuba. The New York-based airline has partnered with Cuba Travel
Services, Xael Charters, and ABC Charters on those flights.
On Friday, JetBlue and Cuba Travel Services will launch a new Friday
round-trip flight between New York’s JFK International Airport to
Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport.
By adding more flights, JetBlue is strengthening its position in Cuba —
a move that could pay dividends for the carrier once regular airlines
flights are again allowed. JetBlue already has a strong presence in the
“In teaming with an experienced charter partner like Cuba Travel
Services, our first flight from JFK to Cuba brings JetBlue’s
award-winning experience to Cuba-bound customers and offers new direct
travel options from New York, where many Cubans live today,” JetBlue CEO
Robin Hayes said in a statement.
Even though travelers have to go through a charter company to purchase
their tickets, they experience the same JetBlue service they would get
on any flight.
The A320 is adorned with the JetBlue livery. Flight attendants and
pilots wear JetBlue uniforms. Wi-Fi, snacks and satellite TV are free as
they are on all JetBlue flights.
On a recent JetBlue flight from Tampa to Cuba sold under by ABC
Charters, the Wi-Fi worked for most of the hour-long flight.
The plane could hold up to 150 passengers. But on this flight, three
seats were reserved for a mechanic and two on-board charter representatives.
Charter representative Aida Lopez, who is Puerto Rican, was there to
answer passengers’ questions and generally help them in any way she could
“I understand their culture,” she says. “I understand them very well,
their needs, what they want.”
Flight attendant Angie Jimenez, a Colombian-American, calls the Cuba
flight “one of my favorite flights to work.”
“I like working with the Latin community,” she says. “I feel
comfortable. They love the fact that we all speak Spanish.”
The flights are often filled with Cubans who live in the United States
but want to reunite with relatives back home.
“This is wonderful that we can connect these people with their families
whom they haven’t seen in years,” says Linda Meech, JetBlue’s general
manager in Tampa.
None of the JetBlue employees can actually explore Cuba once they land,
however. For now, they are not allowed. And that’s fine by mechanic
Albert Coca, who was born in Cuba but left for the United States when he
was four years old.
“I’ve had mixed feelings about it,” he says.
Vaughan says he would like to someday travel around Cuba — or even just
“I’d like to go into the terminal and try some local food,” he says.
Vaughan, who has been with JetBlue for nearly 10 years, enjoys seeing
destinations from thousands of feet in the air. Some of his favorite
places to fly into are Barbados and St. Lucia.
Unfortunately, on his first flight into and out of Cuba, it was too
cloudy for him to see much. For now, he does not have any more Cuba
flights scheduled, but he hopes to make it back there some day when it’s
“It looks so much better from above sometimes,” he says.
Cuba flights operated by JetBlue
– New York JFK to Havana (HAV): Fridays, flights sold by Cuba Travel
– Fort Lauderdale (FLL) to Havana (HAV): Fridays, flights sold by Xael
– Tampa (TPA) to Havana: Tuesdays, flights sold by ABC Charters
– Tampa (TPA) to Santa Clara (SNU): Wednesdays, flights sold by ABC Charters
– Tampa (TPA) to Havana (HAV): Fridays, flights sold by ABC Charters
Source: JetBlue. Schedules accurate as of July 2, 2015.
Source: JetBlue expands service to Cuba –