A group of 11 Democratic senators is urging the Trump administration to reverse new restrictions that ban US commercial flights to all Cuban destinations except Havana.

In a Nov. 1 letter to the heads of the Departments of State and Transportation, the lawmakers, led by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota), called the decision “another step backwards for the people of Cuba and the US,” adding that officials estimate it will reduce the number of American visitors to Cuba by more than half. 

The Transportation Department (DOT) on Oct. 25 issued a notice suspending the authority granted to US airlines to fly between the US and any point in Cuba except José Martí International Airport (HAV) in Havana. The suspension is set to go into effect on Dec. 9. 

The DOT said it took the action after a request from the State Department made in an Oct. 25 letter from secretary of state Mike Pompeo to transportation secretary Elaine Chao. Suspending flights to non-Havana airports “sends a clear message to the Cuban Government” regarding alleged human rights violations and the county’s support for Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro, Pompeo wrote, while maintaining flying to HAV “preserves the main gateway for travel from the US to Cuba on commercial flights for family visitation or other lawful purposes.”

The flight ban would mainly affect Dallas/Fort Worth-based American Airlines and New York-based JetBlue Airways. Both fly to Camagüey, Holguín and Santa Clara, and American also serves Santiago de Cuba and Varadero.

“We plan to operate in full compliance with the new policy concerning scheduled air service between the US and Cuba,” a JetBlue spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “We are beginning to work with our various government and commercial partners to understand the full impact of this change on our customers and operations in Camagüey, Holguín and Santa Clara.”

An American spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The move to restrict Cuba flying follows previous measures introduced by the administration over the past two years that barred travel to Cuba for previously authorized cultural and educational purposes. Only certain approved categories of travel, including for family, religious, academic or humanitarian purposes, are currently permitted by the US government.

“We have profound disagreements with the Cuban Government, as we do with many governments,” wrote the senators. “Rather than returning to the failed policies of the past, we should be working to create opportunities that benefit the people of both our countries.”

Ben Goldstein, Ben.Goldstein@aviationweek.com