By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – United Airlines said on Wednesday it is working to resume flights to Cuba later this year that it suspended in March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Chicago-based U.S. airline said it has been working for months to relaunch service but faces hurdles. It asked the U.S. Transportation Department (USDOT) for a waiver for 30 additional days as it works to resume service.
United previously flew seven flights weekly to Havana from its Houston and Newark hubs. United said it needs to “undertake significant work including re-negotiating multiple contracts with service providers that have lapsed, building out necessary infrastructure in Terminal 3 at Havana’s airport where United
is being relocated.”
United said given the challenges it is concerned it cannot resume flights by an Oct. 31 USDOT deadline.
On Monday, the Biden administration agreed to expand U.S. flights to Havana, adding 13 weekly American Airlines departures from Miami and a weekly JetBlue Airways departure from Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
That is on top of the typical six daily American Airlines flights and three JetBlue flights weekdays to Havana from the Florida airports.
In June, USDOT lifted a series of restrictions on flights to Cuba imposed under former President Donald Trump, including ending a prohibition on U.S. airline flights to smaller Cuban airports outside Havana.
At the time, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the action was “in support of the Cuban people, and in the foreign policy interests of the United States.”
The Trump administration had barred passenger airline flights to smaller Cuban airports.
In July, American Airlines received permission to resume service to some smaller Cuban airports. American sought approval for flights from Miami to Santa Clara, Holguin, Matanzas/Varadero and Santiago de Cuba.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Leslie Adler and David Gregorio)