The US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) moved to further limit non-family travel to Cuba as part of an administration-wide effort to assert greater pressure on the country over its human rights record and support for the regime of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela.

The Treasury on June 5 amended its regulations to remove an authorization for “group people-to-people educational travel,” which is currently the most popular way for American tourists to visit the country. The category included guided tours organized through select US-based companies.

In November 2017, the Trump administration eliminated an authorization for Americans to travel to Cuba through general “people-to-people” visits, but left in place a provision allowing for the “group people-to-people educational travel” authorization to continue. The new regulations remove that exception, eliminating all people-to-people travel to the island.

“This Administration has made a strategic decision to reverse the loosening of sanctions and other restrictions on the Cuban regime. These actions will help to keep US dollars out of the hands of Cuban military, intelligence and security services,” Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

The new restrictions went into effect June 5, although Treasury is providing a grandfathering provision to authorize certain travelers who had already purchased a flight or accommodations for travel. The changes will not affect the 11 other categories of legal travel to Cuba, including for religious, academic or humanitarian purposes.

Representatives from Dallas/Fort Worth-based American Airlines, Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines and Chicago-based United Airlines—which all operate scheduled service to Cuba—each said in emailed statements to ATW they are reviewing the recent regulatory changes and plan to comply with all federal law regarding travel to Cuba.

Representatives from New York-based JetBlue and Dallas-based Southwest, the other two large US carriers with scheduled service to the island nation, did not respond to a request for comment.

Nine US airlines launched flights to Cuba in the second half of 2016 and early 2017 after former president Barack Obama and Cuban president Raul Castro agreed to a new air services accord, restarting scheduled commercial service between the countries for the first time in over 50 years.

Since then, four carriers—Alaska Airlines, Denver-based ultra-LCC Frontier Airlines, Florida-based ULCC Spirit Airlines and Florida-based regional Silver Airways—have dropped service to the island, while others including Southwest and American have trimmed their Cuba service, citing difficult market conditions and political uncertainty over the Trump Administration’s hardening stance toward the country.

Also on June 5, the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) acted to make private and corporate aircraft ineligible for license exceptions to fly to Cuba, indicating it would henceforth establish a policy of denial for future license exception applications from US residents, further limiting Americans’ options to access the country by air.

Ben Goldstein, ben.goldstein@aviationweek.com