New York increases Cuba charter flights

A street in Havana (Kamira /

A street in Havana (Kamira /


, Last Updated: 12:01 PM ET

Charter companies are to step up direct flights between New York and Havana next month as they seek to profit from a growing rapprochement between the United States and Cuba.

Cuba Travel Services says a Boeing 747-800 will fly each Tuesday to and from John F. Kennedy International Airport and Havana, allowing travellers to end time-consuming stop-off journeys.

The company decided in November to launch the route -- before President Barack Obama and Cuban leader Raul Castro surprised the world in December with plans to normalize ties.

"We had a good idea that change was kind of coming," general manager Michael Zuccato told AFP by telephone from California.

"So the timing was good."

On January 15, the US government eased travel restrictions, allowing certain Americans such as journalists, scholars, artists and athletes to visit Cuba without asking for a special license.

A representative for US-based company Marazul said it would also resume weekly charters between JFK and Havana on March 3, after they briefly suspended the service in November.

Cuba Travel Services' first New York to Havana flight on March 17 has already sold 120 of the 162 seats available for the three hour, 40 minute journey, Zuccato said.

Prices start at $849, more expensive than flying to alternative destinations in the Caribbean, but Zuccato said it was competitive given the speed of the direct service and overheads involved.

In 1999, under president Bill Clinton, the US state department authorized direct flights to Cuba from New York and Los Angeles.

But over the years, charter services between Cuba and those cities ebbed and flowed due to costly overheads and paltry demand.

Zuccato said the recent diplomatic overtures had generated "tremendous uptick in business."

"We expect the impact to be very positive. There's a tremendous amount of people wanting to travel to Cuba now," he said.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the region's airports, was not immediately available for comment.