Just as major airlines are vying for approval to fly more frequently to Cuba, the State Department is warning U.S. citizens not to travel to the island.
The warning was prompted by mysterious attacks that have affected U.S. embassy employees in Havana, resulting in dizziness, cognitive issues and other symptoms. The U.S. government can’t identify the sources of the attacks, according to a warning issued Friday, and is concerned that citizens traveling to Cuba also could be at risk. Some embassy staff members and their families have been ordered back to the U.S.
United announced earlier this week that it applied to provide daily service between Houston and Havana, expanding its service from Saturday only. The Chicago-based airline has operated a daily flight to Havana from Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey since December.
The airline’s flights to Cuba have not changed as a result of Friday’s warning, United spokesman Frank Benenati said. Its plans regarding additional flights, which are pending approval by the U.S. Department of Transportation, also have not changed.
“We continue to operate normally at this time and remain in contact with the relevant federal agencies,” Benenati said.
JetBlue Airways, which also is vying for additional flights to the island, said it will waive fees for changing or canceling flights for customers who booked Friday or earlier. Changes can be made through Nov. 1.
American Airlines also has an application pending with the Transportation Department for 10 additional weekly flights to Havana from Miami. It already operates nine daily flights to five destinations in Cuba, spokesman Matt Miller said.
Friday’s warning has not cooled the Fort Worth, Texas-based airline on its current operations or future Cuba plans either, Miller said.
“We’re monitoring the situation, but we haven’t made any adjustments,” he said, noting that the airline works closely with the State Department and other agencies.
The first commercial flight from the U.S. to Cuba in half a century arrived in August 2016, a result of the Obama administration’s efforts to normalize relations with the country. An arrangement with the Cuban government allows each country’s airlines to operate 20 daily round-trip flights between the U.S. and Havana and up to 10 daily round-trip flights between the U.S. and each of Cuba’s nine other international airports.
U.S. citizens are still not allowed to travel to Cuba individually as tourists but can go as part of educational group tours. They can also go to visit family or for business meetings, among other reasons.
Since the government selected which airlines could fly into the once-forbidden country, there have been adjustments. American, for example, cut the number of daily flights it was running between Miami and Santa Clara, Varadero and Holguin from two to one “to better match supply with demand” in February, Miller said.
Spirit Airlines and Frontier Airlines ended their Cuba service earlier this year, which freed up some of the allotted flight slots and prompted the applications to the Department of Transportation from American, United and JetBlue.
Additionally, the Trump Administration changed the still-fresh U.S. policy toward Cuba in June, promising to crack down on the Cuban embargo and ban on individual tourism. Though the Transportation Department said the changes do not affect U.S. airlines’ authority to serve Cuba, the airlines reacted.
Southwest Airlines announced at the end of June that it would cease operations in Varadero and Santa Clara on Labor Day.
Steve Goldberg, Southwest’s senior vice president of ground operations, said in a news release at the time that the decision came after conducting a performance analysis.
It “confirmed that there is not a clear path to sustainability serving these markets, particularly with the continuing prohibition in U.S. law on tourism to Cuba for American citizens,” he said.