The commercial flights that begin this fall between the United States and Cuba mark the continuing turnaround in relations with an important southern neighbor. This latest step is another boon to Cuban-American families and to regional security, and it brings welcome new opportunities for Florida and Tampa Bay.
The U.S. Department of Transportation this month approved flights by six American commercial airlines to nine Cuban cities. While charter flights from Tampa and other U.S. cities have served Cuba's capital, Havana, for years, this marks the biggest expansion in the travel market between two countries that had largely been separated by Cold War animosity for a half-century.
The first flights will depart from Miami, Fort Lauderdale and other major gateways and be operated by some of the nation's biggest airlines, including JetBlue, American and Southwest. While no carriers sought flights from Tampa, this region is in the running for commercial flights to Havana when the government allocates those routes this summer.
Since President Barack Obama first relaxed trade and travel restrictions on the island in 2009, the two nations have moved across a broad political and economic front to build stronger ties. The commercial flights will help build confidence as the two sides work to fully normalize relations. Closer to home, they will make it easier and cheaper for Tampa Bay residents to visit; for Cuban-Americans here to rekindle family and cultural ties; and for the region's business community to play a bigger role as Cuba reopens to the outside world. Local leaders should push for Tampa to get the commercial flights and for the region to host a Cuban consulate.
This new era in relations is promising for both sides and something the next president should build on.