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Cuba, here they come: US approves six air carriers

The six companies will be allowed up to 10 daily round-trip flights to cities other than Havana, the US Transportation Department announced Friday. 

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On June 9, 2016, Galo Beltran, Cuba country manager for American Airlines, tests a handheld baggage scanner at Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport. Beltran is based in Dallas. The Department of Transportation said in June that six airlines: American, Frontier, JetBlue, Silver Airways, Southwest and Sun Country, have been selected for routes to nine Cuban cities other than Havana.

Scott Mayerowitz/ AP

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The United States approved scheduled flights to Cuban cities other than Havana from five U.S. cities, with service starting as soon as this fall, the U.S. Transportation Department said in a statement on Friday.

American Airlines Group Inc, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue Airways Corp, Silver Airways, Southwest Airlines Co and Sun Country Airlines will be allowed up to 10 daily round-trip flights, the department said. The flights will be allowed from Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Chicago, Philadelphia and Minneapolis/St. Paul, it added.

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The United States and Cuba signed an agreement this year restoring commercial air service between the former Cold War foes for the first time in decades. Under the agreement, 20 daily round-trip flights will be allowed to Havana but U.S. carriers have requested nearly 60 flights per day, far exceeding the limit.

The Transportation Department said it expects to reach a final decision on which carriers will get the limited Havana slots this summer.

The department said seven U.S. airlines applied to provide service to other Cuban cities. With the exception of Eastern Airlines, which has not received necessary licensing, the government approved all of the route proposals.

"While US tourism to the island nation is still technically prohibited, Americans can travel to Cuba on an organized trip as long as it is an educational "person to person" experience that includes interactions with Cuban people," The Christian Science Monitor's Max Lewontin wrote in May, as the first US cruise ship set sail for Cuba in more than 50 years:

But because the State Department has offered few guidelines on exactly what that entails, as the Associated Press notes, "'educational travel' is so broad it can include virtually any activity that isn't lying on a beach drinking mojitos." In addition to Carnival's Fathom, other cruise lines have also been negotiating to include Cuba as a destination for American travelers.

Reporting by David Shepardson, Susan Heavey, Jeffrey Dastin and Tim Ahmann; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and James Dalgleish