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BWI, 7 other airports cleared for charter flights to Cuba

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 8, 2011; 10:28 PM

Charter flights may begin flying to Cuba from Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport by year's end, but restrictions remain on those who can make the trip.

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BWI is one of eight additional airports that have been cleared by federal authorities to handle charter flights to Cuba, joining a list that had been limited to Miami, New York and Los Angeles.

Although charter flights from the United States land in Cuba every day, it's unlikely daily commercial flights will be offered unless the United States loosens restrictions on who can go there.

The Obama administration has liberalized Cold War-era policies, but only people on religious, academic, journalistic or cultural missions are permitted to fly to Cuba. The change is similar to rules approved by Bill Clinton's administration but tightened under President George W. Bush.

American Airlines spokeswoman Martha Pantin, when asked if the airline was interested in providing regular service to Cuba, responded, "It would be speculative, because that possibility is not available."

American Airlines and other carriers make their planes available for flights to Cuba, but the tickets are sold by charter companies.

The other airports added to the list are Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta, O'Hare in Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Tampa and San Juan.

Jonathan Dean, spokesman for BWI, said charter companies have expressed interest in providing service from there to Cuba.

"There are operators who are committed to this service," Dean said. "Washington is the nation's capital, with a significant number of foreign nationals and a large academic population with an interest in Cuba."

He said the first flights were unlikely to take place until the end of this year or early next.

"The Cuban authority needs to come through," Dean said. "And the [charter] companies need to work with the U.S. government and Cuba to complete the authorizations."

Dean said those operators' interest prompted the approval by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency.

Although Dulles International Airport is the point of origin for charter flights that fly all over the world, a spokesman said none of the operators has yet expressed interest in Cuba.

"If in the future an operator does express interest, we would work with them," said Rob Yingling of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.

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