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By Susan Heavey and Tim Ahmann / Reuters
Updated: June 10, 2016 11:25 AM ET
U.S. President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama arrive at Jose Marti International Airport on Airforce One for a 48-hour visit on March 20, 2016 in Havana, Cuba.
U.S. President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama arrive at Jose Marti International Airport on Airforce One for a 48-hour visit on March 20, 2016 in Havana, Cuba.
Joe Raedle—Getty Images

The United States has approved flights on six U.S. airlines to Cuban cities other than Havana, linking the former Cold War foes closer together, the U.S. Transportation Department said in a statement on Friday.

The green light lets airlines schedule flights to the communist-ruled island for the first time in decades. Until now, air travel to Cuba has been limited to charter services.

Flights will begin as early as the fall, the department said.

Read More: 11 Things That Cost Less in Cuba

American will have nonstop service from Miami, the largest Cuban community in the United States; Southwest, JetBlue and Silver Airways will fly from nearby Fort Lauderdale; Frontier will add flights from Chicago and Philadelphia; and Sun Country will serve Minneapolis.

“For avid travelers – that means 155 weekly trips,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in an online bulletin. “It is an exciting time in American history as we continue to make inroads toward safe scheduled passenger and cargo flights to Cuba.”

The department said it approved every route proposal outside Havana except for those of charter operator Eastern Airlines.

A ban on tourism to Cuba remains part of U.S. law. However, President Barack Obama has authorized exceptions since the countries began restoring relations in December 2014. U.S. travelers must meet one of 12 criteria such as being Cuban-American or taking part in educational tours or journalistic activity.

Airlines expect a gradual, though potentially bigger payout from the flights than is typical for Caribbean destinations.

Strong demand will come from Cuban-Americans visiting relatives, leisure travelers desiring a once off-limits experience, and executives paying for business-class fares to evaluate commercial opportunities, experts said.

Read More: 5 New Ways for Americans to Book Trips to Cuba

“Today’s news is historic on many fronts, especially for the families who, for the first time in generations, will have affordable … air travel to visit their loved ones,” said Robin Hayes, chief executive of JetBlue Airways Corp, in a news release.

American Airlines and JetBlue said they will begin selling tickets this summer. Southwest Airlines said it welcomed the news.

Airlines have applied for nearly triple the 20 daily round-trips that Cuba and the United States agreed to permit to Havana. In extensive filings, each argued why it is suited for the coveted routes and why others would offer inconvenient connections or higher fares.

The Transportation Department said it will make a decision on Havana this summer.

Reporting by Jeffrey Dastin in New York; David Shepardson, Susan Heavey and Tim Ahmann in Washington

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Our content is free because our partners pay us a referral fee if you click on links or call any of the phone numbers on our site. If you choose to interact with the content on our site, we will likely receive compensation. If you don't, we will not be compensated. Ultimately the choice is yours.

Opinions are our own and our editors and staff writers are instructed to maintain editorial integrity, but compensation along with in-depth research will determine where, how, and in what order they appear on the page.

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