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Charter company announces flights from Long Island to Cuba

Long Islanders who want to travel to Cuba

Long Islanders who want to travel to Cuba can hop a charter plane from Farmingdale as JFI Jets announces flights to the country. The sign for Republic Airport in East Farmingdale on Tuesday, April 28, 2015. Credit: Chuck Fadely

Travelers who want to see Cuba as it emerges from decades of economic isolation can hop a charter plane from East Farmingdale, a charter company announced Thursday.

JFI Jets, whose primary bases are at Republic Airport in East Farmingdale and at Long Beach Airport in California, where it is headquartered, said it has acquired clearances to fly to Cuba.

JFI president David Rimmer said round-trip prices from Long Island to Cuba for a nine-seat aircraft would start at about $40,000. JFI, the brand name for 22-year-old Air Rutter International LLC, flew its first charter to Cuba in early August and has another booked in early September, he said.

Air charter traffic to Cuba is expected to increase after the Obama administration's move in January to ease travel restrictions to the Communist-ruled island, though Americans still must claim their visit falls under a dozen broad categories approved by Washington, including humanitarian projects, family visits and professional research and meetings.

"You'll see activity ramp up," Rimmer said. "We've had a lot of inquiries. I think people are still surprised that Cuba is accessible."

In July the two countries reopened embassies shuttered since 1961, and JetBlue Airways, based in Long Island City, Queens, became the first major U.S. carrier to launch direct charter flights between New York City and Havana.

JFI's fleet includes four Gulfstream jets, an Embraer Legacy 600, a Challenger 605, a Challenger 300 and a Citation X.

Though the flights can originate on Long Island, federal rules require the plane to go through a "gateway" airport such as Kennedy Airport or Miami International before the final hop to Cuba, Rimmer said.

Though hiring a charter aircraft offers convenience, Rimmer said that U.S. visitors have to deal with holdovers from Cuba's economic and political isolation, including the inability to use credit cards issued by U.S. banks. He said mobile phone users also need to swap their SIM cards -- the computer chips that identify and authenticate the devices -- for ones from a carrier enabled in Cuba.

Rimmer, of Port Washington, was named president of JFI in January after holding the same position at ExcelAire LLC, a jet charter company based in Ronkonkoma.Other categories under which Washington permits travel to Cuba are: official government business; journalistic activity; educational activities; religious activities; public performances, workshops and athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions; support for the Cuban people; activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials; and export transactions that may be authorized under existing regulations.

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