U.S. and Cuba step towards normalized relations

An agreement to restore scheduled commercial airline service between the United States and Cuba is a step towards an improved business landscape between the two countries.

The move, announced Wednesday by the U.S. State Department, is a first in more than five decades between the former Cold War foes. The deal allows 110 round-trip flights a day between the two countries.

But that doesn't mean American tourists will be able to jump on a plane from the mainland U.S. and fly to Cuba anytime soon, as U.S. law still bans travel to Cuba for "tourist activities."

Federal regulations currently restrict Cuban travel to U.S. citizens licensed to engage in a dozen specific categories, which are broken down by the Treasury Department into activities such as official U.S. government business, some intergovernmental organization work, professional research and education, exportation and importation, athletics and family visits.

That said, there are a growing number of daily charter flights from the U.S. to Cuba, run by a number of U.S. airlines that reportedly charge $500 or more per round-trip ticket for the 45-minute flight from Miami to Havana.

"There are probably 12 to 15 (charter) flights a day by the combined U.S. carrier group," said Robert Mann, president of an independent airline industry analysis firm. "That is likely to continue until the point that the regular leisure traveler, the tourist, doesn't have to comply with the Office of Foreign Assets Control restrictions, which today preclude straight tourism travel to Cuba."

Goods and services should flow more easily between the countries now, said Glenn Ware, a partner at PWC and leader of the firm's intelligence practice. Still, "it's not like that's going to create a switch that's going to all of a sudden light up major business activity between the two countries. It's one little step in normalization."