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US restores commercial flights to Cuba, but doesn't lift tourist restrictions

You can fly there for business, not pleasure

The US and Cuba announced Thursday the restoration of commercial air travel between the two countries for the first time in half a century, but restrictions on tourism will still apply to Americans interested in visiting the communist-ruled island.

The move is the latest by the Obama administration to normalize relations with Cuba after decades of hostilities. Air travel between the two countries will help facilitate an increase in tourism, business, and economic activity in Cuba, which remains largely isolated from many of the technological advances of the last several decades.

US travelers need to meet one of 12 criteria

"While U.S. law continues to prohibit travel to Cuba for tourist activities, a stronger civil aviation relationship will facilitate growth in authorized travel between our two countries — a critical component of the President's policy toward Cuba," the State Department states.

In a statement, President Barack Obama notes the restoration of commercial flights comes one year after his announced intentions to normalize relations with Cuba. "Since then, we have taken important steps forward to normalize relations between our countries — re-establishing diplomatic relations and opening embassies; facilitating greater travel and commerce; connecting more Americans and Cubans; and promoting the free flow of information to, from, and within Cuba," he said. "We are advancing our shared interests and working together on complex issues that for too long defined — and divided — us."

The move allows US airlines to sell tickets to Cuba on their websites. But Americans interested in traveling to Cuba for a pleasant, island getaway will still need to meet one of 12 criteria, such as being Cuban-American or partaking in educational tours or journalistic activity, according to Reuters.

In September, the Obama administration loosened travel and trade restrictions, allowing US telecom companies to set up on the island for the first time ever.