Roger Thayer Stone Center For Latin American Studies

Tulane University

New direct flights between New Orleans and Cuba to restore historic ties; create new ones

March 24th, 2011

Photo Courtesy of Jordan Shannon, Ph.D. Candidate at the Stone Center

By Shearon Roberts

Both Tulane’s Cuba programs, as well as the city of New Orleans, will stand to gain from the approval in March 2010 of a new license for direct flights to Cuba out of Louis Armstrong International Airport. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency granted the new licenses to New Orleans, and seven other airports: Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, Tampa, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Atlanta and San Juan, to an approved list of cities that can now begin direct flights to Havana. Before the expansion, only New York, Los Angeles and Miami’s international airports were authorized for direct flights to Cuba.

Airport officials in New Orleans, as well as local travel providers, had been trying to gain approval for charter flights to Cuba for many years now given the historical ties between the city, Louisiana and the island, observers said.

“Travel access to Cuba from New Orleans will be a tremendous advantage for all of our current and renewed future Cuba programming because it will facilitate all travel arrangements to and from the island,” said Dr. Ana López, Tulane’s Associate Provost and director of the Cuba and Caribbean Studies Institute. At first, travel between New Orleans and Cuba may start up as chartered, weekend flights as Cuba prepares its airport infrastructure to receive the new routes. So far, Jet Blue airlines has been the first among U.S. airlines to express interest in providing these charter flights that could begin as early as mid-July, López said.

New Orleans can become a regional hub for travel to Cuba from the Gulf Coast and beyond. States like Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Kansas, parts of Texas and Georgia would all connect to New Orleans naturally for travel to the island, López said. The new U.S. departure airports for travel to Cuba are an extension of other travel restrictions lifted under President Barack Obama’s administration. It is a good sign politically, López added, because it further erodes the 50-year embargo placed on the country that has had little impact for development on the island.

“The only commercial trade that is allowed under the terms of the [Cuba] embargo is agricultural, pharmaceutical and, to a limited degree, electronic,” López said. “For our state and region, agricultural trade is very important and direct flights can help facilitate those deals.”

With more access to the country now, business groups, along with universities, would find it easier to organize trips there and develop contacts and relationships on the island that can bring additional travel revenues into Cuba, López said. It would provide more resources for Cuba’s modest modernization efforts currently taking place under the leadership of Raúl Castro.
Here in New Orleans, the direct flights can help strengthen Tulane’s position at the forefront of academic work concerning Cuba. For Tulane and the Stone Center’s many Cuba programs, the direct flights from New Orleans would eliminate coordinating the multiple flights through Miami or other Caribbean islands.

“It is our hope that eliminating the need for a Miami stopover will significantly decrease traveling expenses for our programs,” López said. “With Miami-based charter flights it was often the case that they were scheduled in the very early morning hours which also required a one-night hotel stay there.”

For now, the Fall 2011 semester of Tulane’s Cuba semester abroad program will continue its typical travel route through Miami, said Dr. Carolina Caballero, the Tulane Spanish and Portuguese professor who coordinates the Cuba semester abroad program.

“Since the students have orientation in Miami, we will continue to leave from that city in the near future, even if there are direct flights from New Orleans,” Caballero said. “Once we have a summer program back up and running, hopefully for the summer 2012, I think the direct flight from New Orleans may come in more handy if we decide to leave from here.”

Shearon Roberts is a Ph.D. Candidate at the Stone Center