Miami-based C&T Charters plans to offer flights between Puerto Rico and Cuba as early as next month, CubaNews reported.Passengers board a Miami-bound charter flight at Havana’s José Marti International Airport. (Credit: Larry Luxner)
Gary González, the company’s vice-president, said C&T Charters — in business for the last 19 years — will fly once a week from San Juan to Havana and back. Later on, as traffic ramps up, C&T will add flights to and from Santiago de Cuba in order to accommodate the large numbers of Cuban exiles in Puerto Rico whose families are originally from Oriente.
“We wanted to start service [from Puerto Rico] in June, but that won’t be possible,” he said. “There’s a lot of red tape for a new airline and it’s taken a little more time than we thought. We will begin maybe at the end of July, and at the latest, August.”
Direct air service between the two Caribbean islands hasn’t existed for decades. What makes it possible now is the Obama administration’s decision in March to authorize 10 U.S. airports — including San Juan — to offer charter flights to Cuba, in addition to the three “gateways” already authorized to do so: Miami, New York JFK and Los Angeles.
González said C&T flew around 60,000 passengers to Cuba last year and has 22 percent of the U.S.-Cuba charter market — making it the largest of eight charter companies flying from Miami. C&T currently offers daily flights between Miami and Havana, and twice-a-week flights to and from Camagüey, as well as a weekly New York-Havana run.
In addition to San Juan, it also plans to add Cuba service from Chicago and Atlanta in coming months.
For its Puerto Rico service, González says C&T will utilize Boeing 737-400 and Boeing 737-800 jets capable of accommodating 140 to 160 passengers, depending on configuration. Airfare for the San Juan-Havana flight — which is around three hours and 20 minutes — will cost in the neighborhood of $700 round-trip, though that’s subject to change. Since Santiago de Cuba is much closer than Havana, flying time will probably be an hour less.
“We’ll be flying directly from five cities. When you add up that amount of hours, the airline we use will obviously give us better prices than if we fly only from Puerto Rico,” said González, adding that C&T is still discussing which airline it will use.
The charter official said his company has already received all the permissions it needs from local Puerto Rican authorities as well as the Cuban government, and that C&T will open a San Juan office 10 to 15 days before it actually starts flying.
“Even though we haven’t started our advertising campaign, we have had so many phone calls from people wanting to go,” he said. “A lot of Cubans living in Puerto Rico want to visit their families.”