Getting to Cuba from the US has never been easier and though only a few airlines operate direct flights from the UK, there are plenty flying direct from elsewhere in Europe. Canada has had more flights to Cuba than any other country for years, but there are no direct flights at all from Australia.
The point of entry for the vast majority of international scheduled flights is Havana’s José Martí airport, though some flights, and in particular from Canada and the US, go direct to a number of the much smaller regional airports, most commonly Varadero, Santa Clara, Holguín and Santiago de Cuba. These same airports are served by charter flights from Europe, Canada, the US and elsewhere, as are the tiny resort-based airports at Cayo Coco and Cayo Largo del Sur and, to a lesser extent, the airport in Cienfuegos.
Flights from the UK and Ireland
The only airline operating direct scheduled flights from the UK to Cuba is Virgin Atlantic, with two direct flights a week from London Gatwick to Havana. Return fares start from around £650 (including taxes) in low season but you’ll be lucky to pay less than £800 in high season – though if you book eight to ten months in advance you may get a bargain. Seasonal and sometimes cheaper direct charter flights from the UK are operated by Thomas Cook Airlines from London Gatwick and Manchester to Havana, Holguín, Varadero and Cayo Coco and by Thomson Airways between London Gatwick and Varadero.
It’s often cheaper to fly to Cuba from the UK via other European cities, typically Madrid, Paris and Amsterdam. Air Europa is consistently one of the least expensive options and some of its flights from London Gatwick to Havana via Madrid are priced below £500. Air France is the most versatile option, with daily flights from London Heathrow to Havana via Paris for as little as £450 in low season though you can expect to pay at least £950 in high season. Iberia and KLM also fly from Heathrow, via Madrid and Amsterdam respectively, with similar seasonal prices. Other airlines flying from Europe include Air Berlin from several cities in Germany to Varadero and Havana; Blue Panorama from Rome and Milan to six different Cuban airports; Aeroflot from Moscow to Havana; and the national Cuban carrier, Cubana, from Madrid and Paris to Havana and Santiago and from Moscow and Rome to Havana only. Though Cubana tends to offer relatively inexpensive flights, they have a justified reputation for overbooking, overzealous enforcement of the baggage weight limit and a relatively poor safety record.
No airline flies nonstop from Ireland to Cuba, and you’ll usually fly first to London, Paris, Madrid or Toronto. Air France flies from Dublin via Paris from around €800 in low season and closer to €1000 in high season. Otherwise the best option is to buy a flight from from one of the European cities mentioned above and arrange separate connecting flights from Ireland to that city.
Flights from the US
Despite the embargo that Washington still maintains on trade with Cuba and the continued obligation for US citizens visiting the island to adhere to the terms of a “licence to travel”, it is now possible for US citizens to take direct scheduled flights from the US to Cuba. From autumn 2016, for the first time in over fifty years, major American airlines began flying commercial, non-charter flights from all over the US to cities around Cuba. At the time of writing, schedules were still being worked out, following applications for multiple slots from all the major US carriers. The aviation deal between the two nations allows for 110 daily flights to Cuba’s ten international airports, with a limit of twenty set aside for Havana and ten each to the nine smaller regional airports. American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta, JetBlue and half a dozen other US carriers are set to occupy all 110 of these slots, between them connecting Cuban airports with over a dozen US cities, including Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Newark, Boston, Washington, Denver, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Houston.
Prior to this breakthrough US travellers flying direct were restricted to more complicated, relatively expensive charter flights and of course charters are still an option. Traditionally the preserve of specialist tour companies, booking a charter flight through one of these Cuba specialists, though sometimes more expensive, does still have some advantages. Most of these tour operators are themselves licenced to take groups of US citizens to the island, so by signing up for a flight and tour with them you don’t need to concern yourself with a licence at all, and you are likely to be well protected from, or at the very least guided through, any nasty bureaucracy. Two reputable travel and charter agencies are Marazul (marazul.com) and Cuba Travel Services (cubatravelservices.com).
Flights from Canada
Before scheduled flights from the US were established, no country had more flights to Cuba than Canada and the two countries remain very well connected. Air Canada flies to Varadero, Santa Clara, Holguín, Cayo Coco, Cayo Largo del Sur and daily to Havana from Toronto, with plenty of direct flights from Montréal and some from other Canadian destinations. Average low-season fares are around the Can$700 mark, while in high season fares regularly go above Can$1000. Cubana, generally cheaper but less reliable and comfortable than Air Canada, flies regularly from Toronto and Montréal to Havana, Varadero, Cienfuegos, Santa Clara, Camagüey and Holguín. Westjet and the Panamanian carrier COPA Airlines also operate regular direct services from Toronto to Cuban airports. Air Transat, Skyservice and Sunwing Airlines fly direct chartered flights from all over Canada to a number of Cuban airports.
Flights from Australia and New Zealand
There are no direct flights from Australasia to Cuba. The most easily available route from Australia is via Toronto with Air Canada, which usually costs over Aus$2000. A trip from New Zealand will involve a stopover in either Canada, South America or Europe, with costs topping NZ$2500.
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