After repeated efforts over the last two years, JetBlue Airways has won initial approval to launch a weekly flight between Boston and Cuba.
The US Department of Transportation Friday tentatively approved the carrier’s plan to run the flight between Logan International Airport and Havana on Saturdays. Other flights to Havana that were approved include a JetBlue route from Fort Lauderdale, a United flight from Houston, and American and Delta trips from Miami.
The move comes after several airlines have scaled back or outright eliminated service to Cuba, less than two years after passenger travel resumed between the United States and its longtime Cold War rival. Also, in a partial reversal of former president Barack Obama’s policies, the Trump administration last year tightened restrictions on travel to the island and banned Americans from visiting certain hotels or establishments with ties to the Cuban government.
But JetBlue, which flew the first of the newly awarded commercial flight between the two countries in August 2016, said it is still committed to establishing robust service to Cuba.
“We are thrilled with today’s tentative awards from the Department of Transportation,” JetBlue spokesman Philip Stewart said. “As Boston’s number one airline — and as the first airline to operate commercial service between the US and Cuba in more than 50 years — we are especially excited to finally connect Logan and Havana with the only nonstop service between New England and Cuba.”
The dropped trips from other carriers opened opportunities for JetBlue and others to apply to expand their own services. JetBlue had tried several times since 2016 to establish a Boston route, arguing the regional universities and health care systems could create travel demand even under the Trump administration’s limitations.
The Department of Transportation noted that argument in its approval notice Friday. “JetBlue’s Boston proposal would establish a new gateway to Havana at a major northeastern city that is home to health care, biotechnology, and educational institutions,” the notice read.
The decision is still pending final approval, and in a statement, Stewart said the new service’s start date will be determined.
In a statement, Kelly Smith, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Port Authority, which runs Logan, said it applauds the decision. Massport had supported JetBlue’s proposal in filings to the transportation department.