From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

It's been more than a year since President Obama lifted travel restrictions to Cuba for those with family on the island. And while there are still no regular commercial flights from the U.S., more than 50 chartered jets are landing every week, and they're bringing a volume of visitors not seen since the 1950s.

Nick Miroff reports from Havana.

NICK MIROFF: The 45-minute trip across the Florida Straits is so short the plane seems to begin descending soon after takeoff. And the two Cubas, Havana and Miami, meet here just outside the terminals of Havana's Jose Marti International Airport. Tearful Cuban emigres rush to embrace their relatives, their baggage carts loaded with Santa-sized sacks of American retail abundance.

(Soundbite of a conversation)

MIROFF: This type of family reunification is at the core of the Obama administration's Cuba policy. Ordinary Americans are still barred from going, but restrictions have been lifted on anyone with family on the island, hoping the contact will speed changes here. U.S. visitors are now the second largest source of foreign tourists to Cuba, after Canadians.

As many as 400,000 U.S. visitors are expected to arrive by the end of this year, five times the number of U.S. citizens that came in 2008 before the travel policy change. To handle all the added volume, the Cuban government is doubling the capacity of one of its airport terminals.

Juan Francisco Hernandez, a 71-year-old retired farmer wearing a baseball cap that read Jesus is My Boss, said he was the only one of his six siblings who chose to remain in Cuba. But now, his brother visits from Miami regularly, he said, bringing interesting conversations and an economic lifeline.

Mr. JUAN FRANCISCO HERNANDEZ: (Foreign language spoken)

MIROFF: It's a big help to us that the American government has allowed these travelers to come, Hernandez said. And if the rest of the Americans could visit, it'd be even better. I think it'd be huge benefit to both countries, he said.

MIROFF: The Cuba charter flights remain expensive at four, $500 round trip plus baggage fees. But with so much pent up demand, it's not hard to imagine the day when U.S. tourists and Cuban-Americans will jet back and forth on dozens of flights each day, or just come down for the weekend.

For NPR News, I'm Nick Miroff in Havana.

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