Many consider JetBlue to be a standard of modern air travel and the airline helped kick off a new era in travel between the United States and Cuba this past week. After months of negotiations between the two nations’ governments, the New York-based airline flew its first of many regularly scheduled flights between Fort Lauderdale, Florida and Abel Santamaria, Cuba (located three hours west of Havana).
“We are proud to be the first U.S. airline to serve Cuba, but our focus is on being the best airline serving Cuba,” said Robin Hayes, president and chief executive officer, JetBlue. “This historic flight symbolizes our long-term commitment to provide affordable, award-winning service between Cuba and the U.S. For the first time in decades, families separated by only a short stretch of water can easily and affordably visit a loved one, attend an important occasion or visit a special place – and the role we play speaks directly to our mission of inspiring humanity.”
The airline didn’t clear all of the diplomatic hurdles thrown up in travelers’ paths. The two nations, long hostile towards one another, are just beginning to get along after 60 years. A trip to Cuba is still a little complicated, and JetBlue has taken it upon itself to streamline the process as much as possible.
The first thing the airline is focusing on is what they do best: affordable fares. They want to make it as affordable as possible for families to travel to Cuba, especially considering the large Cuban population living in the United States that haven’t seen family living in Cuba in many years.
The second thing is health insurance. Yes, health insurance. The Cuban government requires health insurance for all travelers on all Cuban-bound flights. You also might not mind getting sick in Cuba, or go there for treatment, since the island boasts 1 doctor for every 155 people.
Third in their streamlining approach is rather unique to traveling to Cuba (not that health insurance isn’t) but this one is required by the U.S. government. A U.S. citizen traveling to Cuba must fill out an affidavit affirming the customer is going to Cuba for one of the 12 approved reasons by the U.S. Department of Treasury.
The fourth is getting your visa. Cuba requires all visitors to obtain an entrance visa when traveling to the country. JetBlue has really taken the work out of getting these tourist cards, by making them available for purchase when you check in at one of its gateway airports, such as Fort Lauderdale. The cost of the visa is $50.
Warning: You should still check with the recently opened Cuban Embassy in Washington, DC so you know which kind of visa you will need.
Finally we can get to Cuba from the U.S., but remember that the infrastructure for a true tourist industry is still being built. If you are a truly adventurous traveler and want to take a chance in a country we (the U.S.) had effectively walled off for 60 years, now is your chance and JetBlue is doing its best to cut through the red tape.