Lawmakers backed embargo, but now want local flights to Cuba

Lawmakers backed embargo, but now want local flights to Cuba

Lawmakers are battling to help airlines and airports in or near their districts to obtain the right to fly to Cuba.

All nine members of the Massachusetts delegation wrote the Department of Transportation in support of JetBlue’s bid to fly to Havana from Boston.

“Daily non-stop scheduled air service from Boston to Havana would provide better connections for Boston’s leading health care, biotechnology, and educational institution to link those vital sectors with new opportunities in Cuba,” the lawmakers said.

Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) is pushing American Airlines’s application for a route from Chicago to Havana as a “further effort to normalize relations with our island neighbor.”

Even some lawmakers who opposed the Obama administration's opening to Cuba are seeking help for their constituents.

Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), a staunch defender of the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba, urged the DOT to consider daily service from Ft. Lauderdale International Airport, which would be provided by Southwest Airlines.

“The opening of people-to-people interactions has the power to change hearts and minds, and as President Obama’s plan further eases travel to Cuba, I support routing the flights from an airport in my South Florida community to better serve the families of my community,” he said in a statement to The Hill. 

Rep. Bill Keating (D-Mass.) also signed a letter to Obama asking that he not ease the embargo. He is now backing the effort to allow JetBlue to fly to Cuba from Logan International Airport.

Rep. Rob WoodallWilliam (Rob) Robert WoodallGOP budget chair may not finish her term Ensuring air ambulances don’t save lives only to ruin them with surprise medical bills Senators fight proposed tariffs on solar panels MORE, a Republican from Georgia, used a post on his official website to try to defuse the idea that his support for the application from the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta — Delta’s main hub — is at odds with his criticism of Obama’s Cuba policy.

“While I strongly disagree with the President’s foolish new policy toward a cruel, authoritarian regime, I have an important role as your representative to ensure that your interests are represented at the federal level. That means making sure that if Americans will be allowed to travel to and from Cuba, Georgia families and Georgia’s economy should not be disadvantaged,” Woodall’s post said.

Two other conservative Republican lawmakers from Georgia, Reps. Austin Scott and Tom Grave, also signed the letter promoting Atlanta’s airport. Their offices did not comment on whether the lawmakers supported Obama’s executive actions on Cuba.

The DOT opened bidding from airlines to operate 20 daily round-trip flights to Havana and 10 flights to nine smaller airports on the island. The agency will determine winners this summer, and service to Cuba is expected to begin in the fall.

“The demand outpaces the supply,” said Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst with the Atmosphere Research Group, of the applicants’ zeal.  

George Hamlin, president of Hamlin Transportation Consulting in Fairfax, Va., said that after Obama opened doors to Cuba, many lawmakers believed the best thing to do was to take advantage for their constituents.

“Once it’s done, you want your district to get the benefit,” he said.

He also said that it’s unclear how much the U.S. airlines and airports will profit from the new Cuba routes, especially in the beginning because of a lack of hotels and other tourism infrastructure on the island.

Hamlin said the flood of support letters from members of Congress may not do much to sway the DOT.

“But when you are looking for support, you get everyone in the government to help if you can,” he said. “Truth be told, most of this is theater.”

Ana Radelat is a contributing writer for LATINO Magazine.

This story was corrected at 1:00 p.m. Tuesday.