Trump’s New Cuba Travel Policy – Will It Impact You?

Trump has changed Cuba travel policy for US citizensOnce more, Donald Trump has made news that impacts travelers. This past weekend, he gave a speech in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood that laid out the latest Cuba travel policy for US citizens.

It was expected that President Trump would roll back some of the Cuba travel liberties that President Obama put in place. Some analysts feared that he would end all travel to the island, returning Cuba travel policy to what it was before President Obama’s reform.

Today, we’ll break down what the new Cuba travel policy will mean for you.

The History of Cuba Travel Policy

Revolution and Embargo

Prior to the Cuban Revolution, there were no travel restrictions for US citizens who wanted to visit Cuba. Cuba was an appealing destination for US tourists who wanted to experience the island’s beaches and nightlife. The revolution led by Fidel Castro began in 1953, and continued off and on until the rebels finally toppled the right-wing Batista government on the first day of January 1959. With political tensions between Cuba and the US on the rise, the US government imposed a series of embargoes on Cuba in the early 1960s. These embargoes, intended to block trade between the US and Cuba, also meant that US travelers could no longer legally visit the island. The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control was put in charge of enforcing this Cuba travel policy.

Cuba seems stuck in timeThe US trade embargoes had huge impacts on the island nation. To this day, Cuba looks like it is “stuck in time,” with residents still driving the 1940s and 1950s cars they had before the revolution.

The lack of US tourists meant that the island never developed the kind of major tourist infrastructure you see in neighboring nations like Jamaica and the Dominican Republic. However, that’s not to say that Cuba had no tourism at all. Canadian and European travelers, unaffected by the US law, have continued to be able to visit Cuba as tourists.

Cuba Travel Policy Relaxes Under Obama

During his two terms in office, President Obama eased restrictions on Cuba travel several times. The first change came in April 2009, when he changed the absolute travel ban to allow Cuban-Americans to travel to Cuba to visit family. He relaxed the ban further in 2011, allowing qualified students and religious missionaries to visit Cuba.

Obama’s major change to Cuba travel policy was announced in 2015. Under his new travel policy, US citizens could travel to Cuba without getting prior Treasury Department approval. In order to travel to Cuba, your trip had to qualify under one of twelve “general license” categories of travel. These general license categories include people-to-people exchanges and educational purposes. US travelers could now plan their own trips to Cuba. All you needed was some sort of cultural or educational explanation of your visit.

US travel companies were quick to take advantage of the new market for Cuba travel. Many tour companies began offering tours to Cuba, and major airlines like United and American Airlines began scheduled service to Havana and other cities. Airbnb even jumped on the opportunity to serve individual travelers visiting Cuba, looking for their own lodgings.

Entrepreneurs in Cuba also have capitalized on the influx of American visitors. Since 2015, many Cubans have opened their own small businesses. Not only are Cuban natives renting out rooms and opening small hotels, but there’s been a boom in restaurants, art galleries, and bars in Havana. Cuba received a record 4 million foreign tourists last year, with approximately 615,000 hailing from the US.

Havana offers rich, unchanged culture for travelers to explore

Trump’s Policy – Go With a Group or Don’t Go!

The good news about Trump’s new Cuba travel policy is that he hasn’t reinstated the total travel ban. Yes, you can still tour Cuba! The catch is that you can’t do it on your own. You can’t just buy a plane ticket, reserve an Airbnb room, and explore at your own pace. Under Trump’s policy, you’ll need to travel with an organized tour group.

The logic behind this new policy is all about economics. Trump is trying to keep American dollars from supporting businesses run by the Cuban military. It’s estimated that one military-controlled conglomerate, GAESA, owns more than half the tourist facilities in the country!

The new policy should work well for tour companies and cruise lines, who offer the kind of group travel that is still allowed. However, it’s likely to have a negative impact on Cuban small business owners. Taxi drivers and independent guides will lose out on business from American visitors. Boutique hotels, small restaurants, and galleries are also likely to be bypassed by group tours.

When Will the New Policy Go Into Effect?

The precise date for the new travel policy hasn’t yet been announced, but the goal is to have it in place within 30 days. That would mean that the rules would change on July 15. However, the new travel policy regulations haven’t even been written yet, and they can’t be enforced before they are written!

Should You Travel to Cuba?

If you’re interested in traveling to Cuba, you should go! Cuba is only 103 miles away from the US, but a world apart in culture. It’s a travel experience unlike any other you’ve had.

No matter what you are interested in, you’ll be able to find a Cuba tour to suit you. All tours need to have either an educational or “people to people” cultural exchange focus, but you’ll find a wide variety of tours. There are yoga tours and food tours; photography excursions, art immersions, and architecture explorations. Whether you want to learn to salsa dance, speak Spanish, or cook perfect black beans, you can find a program in Cuba!

Here are some of our top tips for Cuba travelers:

  • Bring lots of cash in US currency, more than you think you’ll need. You won’t be able to withdraw cash from banks or ATMs, or use credit cards or traveler’s checks.
  • Save all your receipts, even those from restaurants and bars. It’s very rare, but your trip could be audited after you get home.
  • You’ll need to have a “tourist card” to enter Cuba. This is similar to a tourist visa. Your tour group or airline will help you arrange it.
  • You’ll need to have two blank pages in your valid, signed passport for your entry and exit stamps.


Biometrics Update: More Biometrics Technology at the Airport

Biometrics may replace your passport and boarding passBiometrics enthusiasts tell us about a world where travelers no longer need to use physical documents like passports, credit cards, and boarding passes. Instead, biometrics devices would be able to scan your face, eyes, or fingerprints and quickly clear you to go straight to your flight. Does that sounds like science fiction? It’s science reality! Biometrics technology exists, and more and more airports and airlines are incorporating it into security and boarding procedures.

Read on for the latest news about biometrics technology at the airport!

JetBlue Testing Facial Recognition at Boarding

JetBlue has just become the first US airline to test biometrics technology at boarding gates. Starting on June 12, they have been running a test at Boston’s Logan Airport. On some flights from Boston to Aruba, they are allowing travelers to use biometrics instead of presenting their passport and boarding pass at the gate.

The biometrics used by JetBlue rely on facial recognition. Passengers who agree to try the program will have their photo taken before they board their flight. Their facial features will be checked against data provided by US Customs and Border Patrol. It takes just 5 to 7 seconds for the facial recognition data to be analyzed. When it shows that the face is a match for the passport and airline ticket data in the system, the passenger is allowed to board.

JetBlue’s testing in Boston will run for 45 to 60 days this summer. If the program is successful, the airline will look to expand it to more flights and more airports.

Delta Airlines has also announced that they will test biometrics boarding. They will run a test in Washington, DC, using fingerprint-based biometrics. Their test will be limited only to members of their SkyMiles loyalty program who are also enrolled in the CLEAR system.

Dubai Airport Aims to Go Passport-Free with Biometrics Technology

Dubai is well known for having one of the world’s most beautiful airports. Dubai International Airport is also the world’s busiest airport for international arrivals and departures. To keep travel moving smoothly, the government of Dubai is investing heavily in biometrics technology.

Dubai Airport is beautiful and high-tech

Dubai’s government has signed a major agreement with the UK-based technology company ObjectTech. The company has been tasked with creating a system to eliminate the use of passport books at Dubai International Airport. It’s part of Dubai’s “10x Policy,” which embraces digital technology in an effort to keep the nation 10 years ahead of the rest of the world.

When the new technology is fully developed and rolled out, passengers arriving at Dubai International Airport should be able to get off their flights and go directly to baggage claim, without stopping to have their passports reviewed.  Instead, passengers will all be pre-approved for entry using an electronic system. We imagine this pre-approval system will be similar to an eVisa process, applied for online. Biometric scanning will allow passengers to be verified quickly, either at boarding or on arrival.

TSA Trials Fingerprint Screening at Two Airports

This week, the Transportation Security Administration has begun testing fingerprint screening at two US airports. Passengers at Denver International Airport and Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport can try the biometric fingerprint screening at the PreCheck security lanes.

The fingerprint screening will occur at the point in the security process when you’d normally pull out your passport and boarding pass. Actually, during the trial, you still do need to show your passport and boarding pass, in addition to having your fingerprints checked! By using the physical documents as a backup, the TSA will be able to test how reliably the biometrics technology is working.

Trials may be extended to other airports. The ultimate goal would be to revamp the initial screening by a TSA security officer. Instead of having passports and tickets manually reviewed, passengers would be able to touch their fingers to a pad and quickly be green-lighted through to the next stage of security.

Have you experienced any of these or other biometrics technology at the airport? Tell us in the comments!


Trump’s Plan to Privatize Air Traffic Control – What Will it Mean for You?

Trump has announced a plan to privatize air traffic control.On Monday, June 5, President Trump announced a plan to privatize air traffic control in the United States. Air traffic control is currently a function of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), part of the US Department of Transportation. Air traffic controllers are unionized federal employees. Under Trump’s plan, air traffic controllers would become employees of a non-profit private corporation. This non-profit corporation would also take over the modernization of the air traffic control system.

This week’s announcement doesn’t mean that the plan to privatize air traffic control will go into effect immediately. Instead, the plan will likely be included in legislation to reauthorize the FAA. It will have to pass Congress before it will become a reality.

Assuming that the privatization of air control goes into effect, what will it mean for you as a traveler?

What Does Air Traffic Control Do?

When you travel by air, you will encounter quite a few people whose job it is to keep you safe. You’ll have your ticket, passport, and carry-on bags checked by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers. You’ll see police officers patrolling the inside and outside of the airport. You may get to greet the pilot and co-pilot as you board your flight. And don’t forget about flight attendants! They’re not just there to bring you Diet Coke and pretzels. A flight attendant’s most important duty is making sure that safety regulations are followed in the cabin of your flight, and to take charge in case of emergency. But you won’t see some of the people with the most crucial role in keeping you safe in the air – the air traffic controllers and other employees of the Federal Aviation Administration.

Air traffic controllers are on the ground, keeping you safe in the air!In a nutshell, air traffic controllers are in charge of directing aircraft traffic both on the ground and in the air. They supervise all civil aviation. Civil aviation comprises all non-military flights, both commercial aviation (passenger airlines and major cargo operations) and general aviation (private, charter, and corporate aircraft). They monitor all flights to make sure that aircraft don’t collide either in the air or on the ground. They maintain communication with pilots to help aircraft avoid hazards like thunderstorms. The FAA also sets aircraft routes — if you don’t have noisy airplanes flying over your house all day, thank the FAA!

Controllers monitor air traffic in a number of ways. At airports, some air traffic control is done visually. Controllers both on the tarmac and in the air traffic control tower will literally keep their eyes on the planes. The FAA also requires all flights, commercial and private, to file a flight plan in advance of takeoff. But by far, the most important way that the FAA monitors flights is by radar.

Why Does Trump Want to Privatize Air Traffic Control?

In his speech on Monday, Trump minced no words about the Federal Aviation Administration. He called the current air traffic control framework “an ancient, broken, antiquated, horrible system that doesn’t work.” (We would argue with that, as US commercial aviation is a remarkably safe way to travel!) The biggest complaint about the current state of air traffic control is that modernization efforts have not gone as quickly as some in government would have hoped.

Dulles Airport, outside Washington, DC, with air traffic control tower visible

The FAA has been working on a multi-faceted modernization program called NextGen. One major part of NextGen will be to replace the radar-based air control with a GPS-based system. Under the current radar system, aircraft can’t fly directly from point A to point B. Instead, they have to fly from one radar waypoint to another, so that the FAA will never lose track of them. With a GPS monitoring system, more direct routes would become possible. This would also make it possible to have more flights in the air at once, and those flights would be shorter and more fuel-efficient.

Sounds great, right? The only problem is that it’s a very complex set of systems that have to be put into place, for a very important purpose. The life of every air traveler depends on it! But Trump is disgusted that NextGen has not been pushed through quickly, and he believes that a private corporation could do the job faster.

The US would not be the first country to privatize air traffic control. Germany, Italy, and Luxembourg are among the countries that have air traffic control run by a government-owned private corporation, which is funded by user fees included in air ticket prices. The plan that has been put forward by the US presidential administration is very similar to the system currently used in Canada. Canada’s private non-profit air traffic control company, Nav Canada, has been successful in bringing out new technologies quickly, without government red tape. This has allowed for shorter, more fuel-efficient flights while maintaining safety.

Would Privatizing Air Traffic Control be Good for Travelers?

Experts are split as to whether Trump’s plan to privatize air traffic control would be good for travelers and the aviation industry. Of the two major air traffic controller unions, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association is in favor of privatization, but the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists union opposes it. Most of the major US airlines have backed privatization plans, with the notable exception of Delta.

We know what you’d results you’d like to see. We want air travel to remain extremely safe, but we’d all love to have shorter, more efficient flights. It would be great to have our ticket prices drop because the airline’s fuel cost is less. But would we see lower ticket prices? Delta Airlines released a study last year suggesting that privatization of air traffic control could result in a 20+ percent increase in passenger fees.

Privatizing air traffic control is far from a done deal. Attempts at privatization have been made since the Clinton administration, and none have yet succeeded. We’ll be keeping a close eye on the development of this story. If there is news that affects travelers, it’s important to us, and we’ll bring it to you!