Airlines Eager To Offer Flights To Cuba, So What’s The Delay?

Now that U.S.-Cuba relations are thawing, a lot of Americans would love to visit the nearby island nation that had been a no-go zone for five decades, and U.S. commercial airlines really want to start regularly scheduled flights to Cuba. But it’s not as simple as flipping a switch.

The Miami Herald reports that U.S. and Cuban officials have been hard at work hashing out how to open up routes between the two countries.

If it were just a matter of giving U.S. carriers more access to Cuba, we might have a timeline for when we could expect regular flights. But, explains the Herald, Cuban airlines want to be able to offer service stateside, which brings up some legal issues.

After Fidel Castro came to power, many people fled or were exiled from Cuba. Some of these folks filed civil suits in the U.S. against the Cuban government for its abuses. Because Cuba never defended itself in these cases, billions of dollars in judgments have been granted against the country.

So if a plane operated by Cubana de Aviación, which has been run by the Cuban government since 1959, were to land in the U.S., it could possibly be seized as payment for some of these judgments.

One official tells the Herald that this is a “theoretical possibility” that has come up in the discussions with Cuban aviation officials.

One possible solution would be for the Cuban airline to lease planes for its flights to the U.S., but that may not be a tenable long-term answer. The U.S. could also try to have the lawsuits vacated, but that would be both a drawn-out process and politically unpopular among those who support the judgments against Cuba.

For now, some U.S. carriers are continuing to offer limited charter service to Cuba. JetBlue has even been leasing its planes to charter operators as a way to get its brand seen by Cuban travelers for when regular flights do start operating.

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