Cuba charter flights OK'd for Oakland airport
San Francisco Bay Area organizations offering education-based trips to Cuba will now be able to fly out of Oakland International Airport, which has been approved as one of only 4 charter flight gateways to the Caribbean island. Airport officials announced today that Oakland received authorization by U.S. Customs and Border Protection to offer nonstop charter passenger service to Cuba. Before this, the only other airport with the authorization to do that were Miami, Los Angeles and New York's John F. Kennedy. Before you get too excited, however, it doesn't change the rules about who can travel legally to Havana and under what circumstances. You still have to go through an authorized education-travel operator, or person-to-person programs, such as Global Exchange (globalexchange.org) or the Los Angeles-based Cuba Travel Services (www.cubatravelservices.com). This approval only makes it easier for those organizations to offer direct flights. There are rough estimates that 200,000 U.S. citizens per year already travel to Cuba, most through foreign airports in Canada, Mexico and Panama. While it's technically legal to travel to Cuba, U.S. citizens are prohibited from spending money there, making travel to the embargoed country illegal by default, except with approved organizations. Cuba Travel Services, which partnered with the airport to get approval, is scheduled to start offering charters in late-summer for flights around the end of the year.