U.S. West Coast commercial flights to Cuba begin days before Trump inauguration

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U.S. West Coast regular commercial air route was launched Thursday with a flight from Los Angeles to Havana, just days before President-elect Donald Trump assumes office and could possibly revert the historic opening with the island.

The flight by Alaska Airlines arrived at Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport at 4:55 pm local time with 181 passengers on board, among them a 50-member civic and business delegation from the states of Washington and California.

The Obama administration has loosened restrictions on travel from the United States to Cuba, but visits simply for tourism remain illegal. U.S. travelers need to have family ties, official business, or an educational, religious or humanitarian agenda.

However, Trump has said he will revert the Obama policy if Havana does not make political concessions.

U.S. airlines competed aggressively last year for a limited number of slots to begin regular scheduled service to Cuba.

Alaska Airlines won the only West Coast route awarded by the U.S. Department of Transportation, a daily roundtrip that starts from Seattle and stops over in Los Angeles on the way to Havana and back.

“The future is promising and we consider that the Cuban market will be a success, it is being so right now as we have already sold out of tickets for the next four months,” Francisco Albite, Alaska Airlines Regional Manager told Xinhua.

Albite said fares for the flight to Havana are very competitive and U.S. travelers are “enthusiastic” about getting to know the island.

The airline will use a Boeing 737-900ER for its daily flight from Los Angeles to the Cuban capital, which can also connect travelers to over 60 destinations in the United States and the world.

In August 2016, JetBlue Airways became the first airline in 55 years to have regular direct commercial flights between the two nations when one of its planes landed in the central city of Santa Clara.

Restrictions still apply to U.S. citizens to freely travel to the island as tourists, who must go under one of 12 general licenses.

U.S. visitors to the island have increased substantially since the two nations declared a detente in their relations in December 2014 and formally re-established ties last year.

The two countries signed an agreement in February last year that stipulates up to 110 daily flights between several cities in the United States and 10 Cuban international airports.

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