By Michael Orr | AirlineInfo.com
While the overall number of charter prospectuses filed has dropped every year since 1999, the percentage of applications directed toward Cuba has remained nearly the same. Since 2004, charters to Cuba have comprised between sixteen and twenty percent of total prospectuses, despite its seemingly off-limits appearance. In fact, if asked, most ordinary citizens would probably expect that civilian travel from the United States to Cuba is completely prohibited. To the contrary, families have returned to the island on an annual basis for years. In 2004, restrictions were tightened making family trips available only once every three years. If families returning to the island can only travel one-third as often as previously, what accounts for the sustained number of charter applications?
Increasingly, flights chartered to Cuba have centered on Havana. Prior to the tightening of restrictions in 2004, as many as forty percent of these charters landed in Camaguey, Cienfuegos, Holguin or Santiago de Cuba. But each year the demographics of the chartered flights change. In 2007, sixty-eight percent of Cuban charters were for Havana and thus far in 2008, three out of every four will land in the capital. As Castro’s failing health and possibilities for reform and humanitarian aid have risen in the past five years, so too have the numbers of non-native travelers to Cuba.
According to Gulfstream Airlines, a major provider of chartered flights to the island from Miami, the majority of its passengers remain families returning for a visit but each year the numbers of humanitarian volunteers, government officials and journalists have increased. This could help explain how in a somewhat slowing charter market, flights to Cuba operated at ninety-seven percent capacity in 2008.
So despite the popular notion that travel to and from the United States to Cuba is limited, it would appear that sustained charter activity is the case, with particular growth in flights to Havana.
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