After Effort from Klobuchar, Franken, Peterson, McCollum, Nolan, Paulsen, and Emmer, Department of Transportation Approves New Direct Flights from Minnesota to Cuba

June 16, 2016
Press Release

After an effort from Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, along with Representatives Collin Peterson, Betty McCollum, Rick Nolan, Erik Paulsen, and Tom Emmer, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has approved new direct flights between Minnesota and Cuba. As a part of the Administration’s efforts to normalize relations with Cuba, the U.S. and Cuba recently signed a civil aviation accord that will open up new opportunities for American businesses and travelers, including regular flights between the U.S. and Cuba. In an April letter to Secretary Foxx, the lawmakers urged DOT to consider the application of Sun Country Airlines to provide direct flights between Minnesota and Cuban airports. Today, DOT approved two direct Sun Country flights a week between Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and the airports serving the Cuban cities of Santa Clara and Matanzas. Sun Country is based in the Twin Cities, and was the only airline bidding for direct flights between Minnesota and Cuba.

“The new direct Sun Country flights between Minnesota and Cuba will help boost Minnesota exports and allow Cubans greater access to Minnesota-made goods and products,” said Klobuchar. “As we continue to break down barriers that prevent travel to Cuba, we must build on this progress and pass my bipartisan bill to lift the trade embargo. If we don’t, the millions of Americans that will visit Cuba will end up staying in Spanish hotels and eating Chinese food instead of Minnesota-based businesses like Carlson and General Mills. ”  

“The newly approved direct flights to Cuba are great news for Minnesota businesses and travelers," said Franken. "When I visited Cuba last year, I focused on finding ways to expand economic and travel opportunities for Minnesotans. And this historic announcement will do just that. Direct flights by Sun Country Airlines from Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport will help Minnesotans and our businesses continue to play a critical role as our country improves relations with Cuba.”

“Allowing Americans to travel to Cuba is a major step to normalizing relations and expanding trade opportunities. By facilitating travel we can show the Cuban people the great benefits of democracy,” Peterson said. “This announcement will help meet the transportation needs of Minnesotans looking to visit or do business in Cuba.”

“Today’s announcement that Sun Country will be able to fly directly to Cuba is great news for Minnesota families and businesses,” Congresswoman McCollum said. “Sometimes you just need a break from cold and dark Minnesota winters, and I know Minnesotans will take full advantage of these direct flights for business or for cultural exchange.”

“Sun Country’s establishment of flights between Minnesota and Cuba will provide wonderful opportunities for American businesses and tourists alike,” Nolan said. “When I met with President Fidel Castro in Havana in 1977 to negotiate the release of American prisoners and establish an exchange program between the U of M and Havana Schools of Agriculture, Castro predicted it would take another thirty years for our two nations to resume normal diplomatic relations. I thought him overly pessimistic at the time, but he proved to be correct. So I am tremendously pleased to that we are taking these important steps to bridge transportation between our two nations, separated by only ninety miles of water.”

Sun Country Airlines is a proud Minnesota business and deserving of these direct flights to Cuba,” said Congressman Paulsen.  “I am excited about the possibilities the flights will create for Minnesota’s economy as well as businesses and families across our state.”

“Today’s announcement by the Department of Transportation to approve Sun Country Airlines’ direct flights to Cuba is a great step in the ever-evolving U.S. – Cuba relationship,” Emmer said. “Because of this move, Minnesota’s own Sun Country will be now be able to have a direct path for Minnesota businesses and families to the neighboring Cuba and all this budding relationship has to offer.”  

The full text of the April letter the lawmakers sent is below:

Dear Secretary Foxx:

We write in support of your efforts to increase commercial air travel to Cuba and in support of the application of Sun Country Airlines to provide direct service between Minneapolis/St. Paul and the Cuban airports serving Havana, Matanzas, and Santa Clara.

The recent signing of the U.S. – Cuba civil aviation accord will open up new economic opportunities for American businesses and travelers and paves the way for regular flights between the U.S. and Cuba. These flights will allow Americans to engage with the Cuban people – who are ahead of their government on economic policy and human rights – and support the hundreds of thousands of small businesses, called cuentapropistas, owned by the people of Cuba.

It is our hope that as you decide which airlines will operate the new daily flights to Cuba and, particularly, the twenty new flights to Havana, you will consider small American businesses like Sun Country Airlines. Granting frequency allocations to smaller air carriers like Sun Country would maximize public benefits by helping ensure that air travel markets between the U.S. and Cuba are not concentrated in the hands of a few, large dominant carriers. Moreover, Sun Country, based in The Twin Cities, has already shown its ability to conduct successful regular flights to Cuba, having provided charter service for Cuba Travel Services for travel to and from Cuba between 2013 and 2015.

Sun Country is the only airline bidding for direct flights between Minnesota and Cuba, and these routes would continue to promote the important economic and cultural interests our state has in Cuba.