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JetBlue Airlines to halt Cuba flights as U.S. travel restrictions continue

JetBlue representatives said they will proactively provide an automated full refund to their original form of payment to customers

JetBlue Airlines to halt flights to Cuba starting September 17th
JetBlue Airlines to halt flights to Cuba starting September 17th | ADN America

September 1, 2023 1:25pm

Updated: September 1, 2023 2:00pm

JetBlue Airlines will suspend all routes to Cuba with the final day of service ending  Sept. 17, as “demand for travel to the island has been significantly affected by restrictions on travel to Cuba,” Jet Blue said in an email response to ADN Cuba, Friday. 

The travel restrictions were put in place after the airline launched its service to the Caribbean island. 

JetBlue representatives said they will proactively provide an automated full refund to their original form of payment to those customers affected by the route suspension.

JetBlue was the first airline to operate a direct commercial flight to Cuba in over 50 years, starting in 2016.

The route change came after diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba were reignited  during the Obama administration, which the airline recalls as a “new era of low fares and great service to Cuba that the market benefited from.”

The upcoming Sept. 17 shift is not the first time the airline has suspended or reduced its operations to Cuba.

In 2020, JetBlue eliminated the Boston-Havana route due to restrictions imposed by former president Donald J. Trump, and in 2021, the frequency to Havana was reduced to one weekly flight due to Cuba's measures amid the pandemic.

The current announcement is part of the ongoing decrease in flights to Cuba by several airlines due to the decline in tourism and the deep economic crisis affecting the island.

For Cuban democracy activist Salomé García Bacallao, the timing of JetBlue's decision is confusing, especially since the Cuban regime recently eased migration laws to attract emigrants and exiles to visit to the island, ostensibly to visit family members and loved ones. 

In recent years, several airline companies, such as Southwest Airlines and American Airlines, have received criticism from human rights groups after an increased number of Cuban activists and journalists were intentionally left stranded in foreign airports, effectively imprisoning them in a state of a migratory limbo in foreign airport terminals. 

Such was the case of Professor Omara Ruiz Urquiola, a prominent human rights activist who was temporarily in the U.S. receiving cancer treatment. Cuba later denied her right to re-entry, leaving her in a vulnerable health situation. 

JetBlue "hasn't been directly involved, at least until now, in preventing high-profile activists or journalists from returning to Cuba," García Bacallao told ADN Cuba.

"However, I know from personal experience that they [the airline] do demand a specific protocol for traveling to Cuba, and at the airport, they use the same mechanism to communicate the passenger list and wait for Cuba to authorize which passengers can travel, considering Cuba's alleged immigration regulations," she clarified.

García Bacallao pointed out that supposedly, there are no significant current restrictions for Cuban emigrants to re-enter the country. Despite this, the Cuban regime systematically denies re-entry to its own nationals who are outspoken against the regime. 

Bacallao said that she and the activists have requested the U.S. Department of Transportation to investigate the reasons why airlines collaborate with the Cuban Ministry of the Interior, violating the rights of Cuban citizens.

"We have filed several complaints or requests for investigation with the U.S. Department of Transportation, which would be equivalent to the Ministry of Transportation in Cuba. In fact, they have a bilateral agreement that has allowed all these airlines to get permission to travel to Cuba, and we've asked them to investigate the reasons why these airlines are collaborating in this way with the Cuban Ministry of the Interior," she explained.

García Bacallao said if her requests to open an investigation succeeds it would be "a victory for civil society because, for the first time, these companies are acknowledging that there are discriminatory policies against Cuban citizens, that there are human rights violations that could even motivate a company to cease operations in Cuba."

In a Twitter post, the activist noted that the ambiguity of the announcement could be used by the Cuban regime "to demand more concessions from the U.S. government regarding travel restrictions that American citizens have to travel to Cuba and the new requirements for those who want to enter the U.S. as tourists after visiting Cuba."

Journalist and academic José Raúl Gallego, who has also been outspoken about Ramos and Urquiola’s cases in the past and the attacks of the Cuban regime against academics, also took to Twitter to remind its followers “that American airlines, including JetBlue, have prevented Cuban activists and opposition members from boarding flights from the United States to Cuba, following orders from the regime's authorities." 

Gallego also said that, although the decrease in tourism to Cuba has been causing losses for airlines, it's important that JetBlue acknowledges in its announcement the human rights violations committed against Cuban exiles.

JetBlue representatives told ADN Cuba they look forward to resuming service to Havana and continuing to pursue opportunities within Cuba should travel become more accessible in the future.

"Exiting Havana will allow us to redeploy additional aircraft on our top-performing routes where demand for JetBlue’s low fares and award-winning service is growing," the airline said.