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CUBA: Fasten your seatbelts

American Airlines Boeing 737 in Havana, Cuba. PHOTO: American Airlines

American Airlines photo

For the first time in a half-century, US airlines soon will be making regularly scheduled flights to Cuba. The trade embargo is over in all but name.

If you want to see Cuba before the tsunami of American mass-market tourism hits full-force, you might want to accelerate your travel plans.

Sometime next week, a US government plane will carry US Transportation and State Department officials to Havana to sign a civil aviation agreement with Cuba.

That agreement will permit up to 20 regularly scheduled flights a day between US airports and Havana, with up to 10 daily flights to each of the other nine Cuban international airports.

That’s 110 flights in all, according to the Miami Herald. Those flights could begin as early as October.

US-based airlines, especially American Airlines, already are operating charter between the two countries, including non-stop flights to Havana from LAX. Those flights will continue.

The US Department of Transportation will decide this summer which airlines will be allowed to make regular flights to Cuba and which US airports they can use. Once the pact is signed, airlines will have 15 days to apply for Cuba routes.

American Airlines is already committed, with Delta and United right behind them. The airlines will still have to negotiate with Cuban aviation for gate space there.

(NOTE: This agreement applies only to US airlines. Cuban air carriers still won’t be allowed to fly to the US.)

There aren’t many more nails left — or needed — to pound into the coffin of the US trade embargo against Cuba. But while this 55-year-old Cold War policy relic may be on life support, it’s not dead yet. Only Congress can abolish it.

Which means that the garden-variety American tourist still can’t visit Cuba.

But so many loopholes now exist to that rule that a blind man could find his way around it, legally.

For now, Cuba is still Cuba, an intriguing and mix of tropical beauty, decaying infrastructure, friendly, fascinating people — not to mention a refreshing absence of McDonalds, Pizza Huts, KFCs and Walmarts.

But the clock is ticking. Fast. So if you want to see the authentic Cuba, we should talk.

CUBA-JANUARY 15:Classic Chevrolet January 15,2012 in Havana.

 

Greg Gross is the Publisher/Sr. Editor of “I’m Black and I Travel!,” and the owner of the Trips by Greg travel agency, specializing in cultural and heritage travel worldwide.

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