By Jeffrey Dastin and Arshad Mohammed
NEW YORK/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States and Cuba plan to hold talks in Havana next week on normalizing airline service, a U.S. official said on Tuesday, a step that could benefit U.S. carriers if the island becomes open to American tourism.
The talks will take place Sept. 28-29, the official said, as Washington and Havana inch toward normal relations after more than half a century of hostility that followed Cuba's 1959 revolution. The two nations restored diplomatic ties and reopened embassies this summer.
However, many restrictions remain on travel. U.S. citizens can visit the Communist-ruled island only for a dozen purposes, including cultural exchange, journalism and religious activities, but general vacations are barred. On Friday the Obama administration issued a new rule allowing authorized travelers to visit Cuba with their close relatives.
U.S. airlines cannot operate scheduled flights to Cuba. While the countries reached a formal air transport agreement in 1953, carriers have been limited to operating charter services for specialist tour groups since the 1959 revolution.
While major U.S. airlines have all expressed a desire to add Cuba to their route maps, American Airlines Group Inc and JetBlue Airways Corp might stand to benefit most. They have focused more on the Caribbean than their U.S. rivals, offering travelers many connecting opportunities.
(Reporting By Jeffrey Dastin in New York and Arshad Mohammed in Washington; Writing by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jeffrey Benkoe)