Taking off: NYC to Havana

Peter A. Quinter

Peter Quinter
GrayRobinson, P.A.

First direct charter service to launch Tuesday from JFK

Bloomberg News
Friday, March 13, 2015

Cuba, so tempting with its rum drinks and beaches, so long off-limits for Americans, is about to become a little more accessible to New York area travelers.

Starting Tuesday, tour operator Cuba Travel Services will begin offering what it says is the first regularly scheduled direct charter service from New York to Havana since President Obama restored diplomatic relations with the island nation in December.

With one weekly flight, Cuba Travel Services is trying to tap the New York area’s large Cuban-American population. It’s a market that has lured other charter operators in the past only to see them pull out amid periodic chills in the relationship between the United States and the Caribbean country. The U.S. has had an embargo on Cuba for more than 50 years.

“There’s a lot more activity, or at least interest, to do business with Cuba,” said Peter Quinter, chairman of the customs and international trade law group at legal firm GrayRobinson in Miami.

New York is a departure from the focus of charter operators in the past. Most have been concentrated in Florida, offering bundled airfares with insurance and travel taxes to help Americans take advantage of the limited opportunities to visit Cuba. Some airlines also offer charter service from cities such as Miami and Tampa.

“Right out of the gate there’s a lot of people that are interested in doing it. But there’s a lot of nuances to it: legal nuances and operational nuances,” Cuba Travel Services General Manager Michael Zuccato said in an interview last week.

On Tuesdays beginning March 17, Cuba Travel Services will offer seats on a Boeing 737-800 operated by Sun Country Airlines, capable of transporting 145 passengers from John F. Kennedy International airport to Havana.

The $849 round-trip ticket covers the airfare, Cuban medical insurance and U.S. departure taxes, all necessary fees to complete the excursion in what is still regulated travel to the country.

New Jersey and New York are home to the third and fourth- largest Cuban American populations, according to the 2010 census.