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Cuban and U.S. flag
A woman in Miami flies Cuban and U.S. flags. (Credit: U.S. State Dept.)

The U.S. Department of Transportation today gave its tentative go-ahead for Alaska Airlines to fly between Los Angeles and Havana, the capital of Cuba, with extended service between L.A. and Seattle, the airline’s hometown.

Alaska said the Cuba-bound flights would be operated with a Boeing 737-900ER aircraft, capable of carrying 181 passengers. Each daily flight would begin in Seattle, then stop over in Los Angeles, with same-plane service continuing to Havana. The return flight would retrace that route.

The route is among 20 slots in Havana that were made available to U.S. carriers this year when the federal government signed an agreement with Cuba to restore regular commercial air travel between the two countries, after a gap of more than 50 years.

A dozen U.S. airlines applied for the slots, proposing a total of nearly 60 flights a day. Alaska was among eight airlines that were awarded the 20 available round-trip flights. Alaska said it was the only airline that proposed daily nonstop service from Los Angeles to Havana.

“Restoring regular air service holds tremendous potential to reunite Cuban-American families and foster education and opportunities for American businesses of all sizes,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement announcing the award. The Transportation Department suggested that the ability to serve Cuban-American populations was a factor in making the selections.

In a separate statement, Alaska Airlines CEO Brad Tilden praised the department “for making a fair and equitable decision, given the high level of interest and limited number of available departures.”

A final decision on the awards will be issued after officials review comments filed in response to the decisions announced today. Those comments are due by July 22.

“Alaska looks forward to receiving a final order from the Department of Transportation and to starting service by the end of the year,” Tilden said.

The other tentative awards for service to Havana include:

  • American Airlines: Four daily round-trip flights from Miami, and one daily flight from Charlotte, N.C.
  • Delta Air Lines: Daily flights from New York (JFK), Atlanta and Miami.
  • Frontier Airlines: A daily round-trip flight from Miami.
  • JetBlue Airways: Twice-daily flights from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., but only one flight on Saturday. Also, daily flights from New York (JFK) and Orlando, Fla.
  • Southwest Airlines: Twice-daily flights from Fort Lauderdale, and a daily flight from Tampa, Fla.
  • Spirit Airlines: Twice-daily flights from Fort Lauderdale.
  • United Airlines: Daily flights from Newark, N.J., plus a weekly flight from Houston.

Last month, the Transportation Department gave six U.S. carriers tentative awards of routes to Cuban airports outside Havana. Those routes will connect five U.S. cities – Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Chicago, Minneapolis/St. Paul and Philadelphia – with nine Cuban cities.

The U.S. travel embargo currently does not allow Americans to visit Cuba strictly for tourism. U.S. citizens are permitted to travel to Cuba if they fall under 12 approved categories, such as family visits, education, journalism, professional meetings, humanitarian projects and the exportation and importation of information.

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