Updated 03:04 PM EST, Sun, Jan 23, 2022

First Ever Charter Flight from LAX to Cuba Takes Off, Officials Hopeful for Regular Flights to Commence Soon

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The inaugural charter flight from the Los Angeles International Airport to Havana took place last Saturday, another evidence of the thawing of relations between the United States and Cuba.

The American Airlines nonstop flight departed at 12:30 PM from Gate 41, following a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by Mayor Eric Garcetti and other city leaders, as well as airline and LAX officials, Los Angeles Times wrote.

The flight "shows how we continue to expand our reach by offering new routes and services our customers want,'' Art Torno, senior vice president of American Airlines, said when the flight was announced in August, NBC4 Los Angeles reported.

Torno continued, "We stand ready to offer scheduled service as soon as the United States and Cuba allow commercial flights.''

Cuba Travel Services Inc. sold the Los Angeles charter flights to Cuba and will operate every Saturday using Boeing 737s, Los Angeles Times noted. American Airlines also operates charter flights to Cuba from Tampa and Miami.

This year, American Airlines anticipates operating around 1,200 charter flights to the Caribbean nation, NBC4 Los Angeles wrote.

U.S. law still prohibits majority of tourist travels to Cuba, but new regulations announced by President Barack Obama's administration in 2014 allow some Americans to visit the island nation without advance approval, Los Angeles Tiems reported. This exemption includes close relatives, journalists, education and research programs participants, and members of entertainment, religious, and sports activities.

There are also ongoing discussions between U.S. and Cuban officers to open regular commercial flights connecting the two nations, with travel from Los Angeles expected to be highly popular, Los Angeles Times added. A civil aviation agreement is required for this setup, but airline officials are hopeful that regular flights to Cuba will be initiated in the future.

U.S., Cuba Restoring Postal Service

Another sign of the normalizing diplomatic relations between U.S. and Cuba is the re-establishment of direct mail service.

On Friday, the two governments announced that they will restore direct mail service between the two countries for the first time in more than five decades, the Washington Post reported. The agreement allows a pilot program to provide mail flights between the U.S. and Cuba instead of routing the mail through a third country, which was the case for decades.

However, both sides admitted that the agreement is still unclear and needs to be finalized in the coming weeks. Cuba's statement said that they are still discussing unnamed "technical, operational and safety aspects" of expanded mail service, and that both countries share "the hope of eventually institutionalizing" mail service "on a permanent basis in the future," the Washington Post added.

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