By Maria Saporta
People will soon be able to fly to Cuba from Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
Marazul, the oldest and most experienced charter and travel agency serving Cuba in the United States, has entered into an agreement with Delta Air Lines to begin direct charter flights from Atlanta to Havana.
Both Marazul and Delta have received all the necessary approvals in Cuba and the United States to begin this service.
“We’re excited to be partnering with Marazul on flights between Atlanta and Cuba,” said Trebor Banstetter, a Delta spokesman. “It reinforces Atlanta’s status as Delta’s global gateway, where we currently offer flights to more than 70 international destinations in 47 countries.”
The ability for Marazul and Delta to begin charter flights to Cuba is as a result of new U.S.-Cuban travel regulations that allowed nine new U.S. airports to serve as points of departure and arrival for direct flights to and from Cuba. Before the ruling, the only three U.S. airports authorized to have flights serving Cuba were in Miami, San Francisco and New York.
In addition to Atlanta, the other airports that received approval were Tampa, Fort Lauderdale, Baltimore, Chicago, New Orleans, Dallas, Houston and San Juan, Puerto Rico.
“There is great excitement about these new flights and we are working hard to complete all necessary regulatory and business steps so we can begin air service to Cuba from Atlanta as soon as possible — we hope before the end of the year,” Marazul President Armando Garcia said in a statement.
Angelo Fuster, who has been working as a consultant for Marazul in Atlanta, said the charter company would sell the seats, and the service would be on Delta’s planes operated by Delta’s crew.
The only people who could buy tickets for the charter service, however, would be those legally authorized to fly to Cuba.
But Fuster said that travel restrictions have been relaxed under the Obama administration. First, Cuban Americans living in the United States can travel to see their family members in Cuba as often as they would like. It had been restricted to only once every three years.
“They also have made it easier for universities and academics to be able to go to Cuba,” Fuster said. “But what really has the potential to expand the market is that the government is permitting people to people trips with organizations and cultural exchange programs.”
Marazul was founded in 1979 to help facilitate travel by Cuban Americans to see their families in Cuba. Since then, the business has expanded, and Marazul has arranged legal travel to Cuba for more than 300,000 licensed travelers for academic, intellectual, cultural, scientific, humanitarian and religious exchanges.
Interestingly enough, this won’t be the first time that Delta has had flights to Cuba.
Delta first flew to Havana in 1953, when it merged with Chicago & Southern Airlines and took over the New Orleans-Havana route. It also operated service between Havana and Port-au-Prince, Haiti; Ciudad Trujillo, Dominican Republic; and San Juan, Puerto Rico.
“We ended service in 1961 following (Fidel) Castro’s rise to power,” Banstetter said.
Fuster said it is expected that the Atlanta-Havana service will start out relatively slow — perhaps one charter flight per week (compared to 15 or 20 flights a week out of Miami).
But he is convinced Atlanta’s business to Cuba will grow rather quickly.
“Atlanta is going to become a gateway to Cuba,” Fuster said. “Because of Hartsfield-Jackson, Atlanta can become the connecting place for people flying to Cuba.”