World Affairs Council of Atlanta President Charles Shapiro was elated Thursday upon learning of the news that the U.S. Department of Transportation tentatively granted nonstop commercial airline service to Havana, Cuba, from Atlanta as well as a host of other cities.
While the approval remains tentative with a deadline for objections to be filed by July 22 and responses seven days later, the possibility of nonstop flights from Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta Airport aboard Delta Air Lines Inc. planes provided him with an emotional uplift.
Delta is one of eight U.S. airlines that the department approved to fly to Havana with the American Airlines Group Inc. receiving the largest share of the limited routes.
According to the department, the airlines were chosen on the basis of providing services to areas of substantial Cuban-American population as well as important hub cities.
Mr. Shapiro had returned from Havana earlier in the week and is in the process of organizing on behalf of the World Affairs Council several trips to Cuba.
An immediate benefit that he cited for Global Atlanta would be the elimination of the current costs associated with flights out of Tampa, Fla., where a hotel stay and taxi fares are generally part of the expense for taking an early morning flight to Havana following a stopover from Atlanta.
Mr. Shapiro also said he had read in a Florida newspaper that the airlines would not be charged for landing fees per passenger as they are now, but according to the more commonly recognized procedure of per plane — another cost saving measure.
Travel to Cuba is allowed only for 12 reasons including visiting family or religious, educational or cultural activities. While the flights to Havana should benefit tourism, it still is forbidden as an acceptable reason to fly to Cuba.
According to published reports, however, a vote in the U.S. House of Representative is expected in the near future on a spending bill amendment that would essentially lift restrictions to Cuba for a year.
In December 2014, President Obama eased the travel restrictions decreed by a 1960 embargo as part of an effort of his administration to normalize relations between the two and put to rest a vestige of the cold war.
Mr. Shapiro, a former ambassador to Venezuela with a long career in Western Hemispheric relations at the State Department, already has led World Affairs delegations to Cuba.
He is in the process of organizing several more trips to Cuba including a seven-day study abroad venture “for grown ups” that will include exposure to the country’s art and architecture, culture and economics.
He said that this visit from Feb. 19-26 next year would include meetings with university professors, members of the U.S. embassy and representatives of Cuba’s private sector.
In addition, he is planning a purely business trip with the Georgia Chamber of Commerce from April 22-26. Sensitive to the time pressures on businessmen and women, he said that the nonstop flight would make the trip “so much easier.”
He also said that he prefers to visit the island when it isn’t as hot as it was this past weekend. “Havana has the climate of Miami but without air-conditioning. Just like in the 1950s, and the taxis don’t have any airconditioning just like they didn’t back then either.”
Despite the steaming temperatures, he said he appreciated seeing an American flag flying over the U.S. embassy and attending a July 4th celebration at U.S. Ambassador Jefferey DeLaurentis’ residence.
In addition to inviting Mr. DeLaurentis to attend a conference in Atlanta about Cuba to be held this year in October or November, he said that he had the pleasure at the reception of seeing Noah Downer, Delta’s sales manager for the Caribbean.
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