An aircraft emblazoned with the Sun Country Airlines insignia on Tuesday became the first to fly direct from New York to Havana since President Obama restored diplomacy with Cuba in December.
Mendota Heights-based Sun Country is not offering commercial services, so travelers won’t find direct flights on the company’s website. Instead, the airline rents its 737-800 jets to tour operator Cuba Travel Services for each flight. The flight number is still marked with Sun Country’s “SY” designation code.
The $849 round-trip ticket from Kennedy Airport to Havana covers airfare, Cuban medical insurance and U.S. departure taxes.
The Sun Country plane touched down shortly before 7 p.m. Minnesota time after a two-hour delay in New York, marking a new chapter in the rapidly emerging transit options between the U.S. and Cuba.
Sun Country began experimenting with Cuban charters nearly two years ago by offering two or three daily shuttles from Miami to various Cuban airports.
“The nature of Sun Country’s business is they have to take opportunities when they can get them,” said George Hamlin, an airline consultant in Virginia. “If a new, potentially lucrative, market appears, you have to get in there even if it doesn’t make you piles of money right away,” he added. “Sun Country has the flexibility and cost structure to do this, and it doesn’t disagree with the name.”
New Jersey and New York trail only California and Florida in the number of Cuban-Americans living within their borders. U.S. citizens still must declare one of 12 reasons for traveling to Cuba, among other restrictions. But a number of airlines, in anticipation of the federal government allowing commercial flights, are jockeying for a position.
Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and JetBlue have already signaled interest in offering commercial flights once Congress approves a U.S.-Cuba accord and new air service agreements are negotiated.
In the meantime, Americans face greater ease in accessing Cuba, which was under a 50-year embargo by the United States until December. For one, U.S. citizens no longer need a special government license to board a Cuba-bound plane.
Bloomberg News contributed to this report.