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JetBlue to make history with flights to Cuba starting Wednesday

Hoping to travel to Cuba? Your trip is about to get a little more convenient.

Airline JetBlue on Wednesday begins flying regular commercial service between Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and Santa Clara-Abel Santamaría Airport in Santa Clara, Cuba.

The first flight leaves the Fort Lauderdale JetBlue terminal at 9:45 a.m. Wednesday. It will be the first regularly scheduled flight between the U.S. and Cuba in more than five decades, and marks another milestone for U.S.-Cuba relations since the two countries announced plans to normalize diplomatic relations in December 2014.

One-way tickets for the flights — which will run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays until daily service to Santa Clara begins Oct. 1 — start at $99, JetBlue said in a news release.

Later this year, the airline will begin daily flights between Fort Lauderdale and two other Cuban airports: Camagüey-Ignacio Agramonte Airport beginning Nov. 3, and Holguín-Frank País Airport beginning Nov. 10.

What travelers will need to go to Cuba

The ticket price includes health insurance, which is required by the Cuban government for any visitors, JetBlue said.

JetBlue also is offering a perk to travelers to Cuba: a free checked bag — up to 50 pounds — in addition to the usual free personal item and carry-on.

Travel to the island nation, however, isn’t as simple as booking a flight. Passengers must belong to at least one of 12 categories — including family visits and research efforts — permitted to travel to Cuba.

Travelers also must contact the Cuban embassy in Washington, D.C., to find out which visa they will need. JetBlue will offer Cuban tourist visas for purchase at its gates before each flight.

Beverly Kelly of Palm Beach Gardens Travel Leaders said she and her team began planning for an influx of Cuba travel requests earlier this year. However, so far, the demand just hasn’t been there.

Many of the trips they have booked so far have been for people traveling with tour groups.

“It is based on religious heritage, or volunteerism,” Kelly said.

It’s important to note, she added, that trips to Cuba still are very expensive — even though a roundtrip ticket could cost as little as $200.

Logistics also can be an issue, Kelly said: “There’s not as many hotels as everybody thinks.”

She recommended reaching out to a travel agent for help planning a trip.

Future flights and destinations

American Airlines soon will join JetBlue, with its own commercial service to the Cuban cities of Cienfuegos and Holguín kicking off Sept. 7. Silver Airways will begin its regularly scheduled service to Cuba beginning with flights to Santa Clara on Sept. 1.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has given tentative approval for eight airlines to fly into José Martí International Airport in Havana. However, those selections have not been finalized. Final U.S. approval should be announced by the end of the year, and then the selections also must be approved by the Cuban government.

Until then, travelers can navigate to the island’s capital via a variety of methods, including taxi or bus.

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