Southwest to fly direct to Cuba from TIA

- Booking a future trip to Cuba from the Bay Area may have just become a lot easier. On Thursday, President Obama released a list of 10 cities approved to offer direct flights to Havana on major U.S. airlines. Tampa International Airport was among those proposed to begin daily scheduled flights on Southwest Airlines later this year.

Since 2011, hundreds of thousands of passengers have made the hour-long flight from Tampa to Cuba aboard charter flights. The ability to book on Southwest, however, will make travel between Tampa and Havana significantly easier.

Since renewed diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuban began to ease travel restrictions, American travel to the once off-limits island nation has sky-rocketed. According to the Associated Press, American travel to Cuba is up 84-percent in the last year.

TIA officials say daily scheduled flights will be a big hit.

"We have the third largest Cuban population in the country, so even without tourists we can support the flight," said TIA CEO Joe Lopano. "Add in the more liberal rules that exist for travel to Cuba and that flight is going to be successful from day one."

Eight U.S. airlines have been pre-selected by the Department of Transportation to provide scheduled flights between Havana and Atlanta, Charlotte, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark, New York City, Orlando and Tampa.

Alaska Airlines, American, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit and United are among those receiving tentative awards. Southwest will have a total of five daily departures from Ft. Lauderdale (Miami area) to Cuba - two of which will land in Havana, two to Varadero, and one to Santa Clara - plus one daily departure from Tampa to Havana.

"As the largest carrier of domestic passengers in the United States, these nonstop flights from two of our Florida focus cities will provide high-quality, low-fare service to our Customers while also offering convenient connections to Cuba for dozens of U.S. cities across the Southwest network," Southwest Airlines Chairman, President & CEO Gary Kelly said in a statement.

Southwest says it will soon publish its fares and flight schedules for Cuba service and intends to begin operations to Cuba later this year.

The Obama administration says it will finalize the list of approved cities and airlines later this summer.

It will be the first time in more than 50 years regular air service will be available between the two countries.

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