Holiday flights from Tampa International Airport to Cuba are filling up fast — and the travelers are not just family members returning to visit their loved ones.
Island Travel & Tours, based in Tampa, has expanded its nonstop air charter service from one flight a week to two. The flights depart on Sunday and Wednesday afternoons, with returning flights on Sunday and Wednesday mornings.
The trip to Havana takes less than an hour, while the return flight requires just more than an hour. Island Travel also provides service to Cuba from New York, Los Angeles, Miami and Fort Lauderdale.
Although the U.S. government permits travel to Cuba under certain conditions for private and business purposes, the Treasury Department imposes restrictions on spending by U.S. citizens in Cuba through the Office of Foreign Assets Control, to enforce economic and trade sanctions against the Cuban government.
Still, several December flights are already fully booked, says Island Travel agent Ismael Sene in Tampa. Some business passengers travel to the island under a general license that doesn't require individual written permission from the U.S. government, he says. “If you are trying to sell agricultural products, or medical supplies or telecommunications, if you sign an affadavit, you can go on the general license.”
Instructors or students participating in educational programs also may be eligible to travel to Cuba with permission from university officials, under the Treasury regulations, notes Sene.
Adding the midweek flight has also encouraged more leisure travelers to sign up, says Sene. Earlier, travelers would depart on a Sunday and return the following Sunday. But that schedule doesn't work for everyone, the agent adds. “Sometimes, they cannot have the whole week off. So they leave on Wednesday, and they take four days.”