CHICAGO (WLS) --Ever wanted to travel to Cuba? Three airlines want to fly you there direct from Chicago starting as early as summer 2016.
United, American and Frontier airlines officially applied with the U.S. Department of Transportation to run commercially scheduled flights direct to Havana and other points on the island.
Last year 160,000 people made leisure trips to Cuba. If these requests are approved, the number is expected to skyrocket.
American Airlines hopes to land its newly painted planes in the Cuban capital as relations between the island nation and its longtime nemesis break new ground.
"We're proud that American worked shoulder to shoulder with our government to make this goal a reality," said American Airlines CEO Doug Parker.
American proposes to fly once a week out of O'Hare to bring in passengers from the Midwest
"Change is good, I think if you open up a window and your neighbors will be able to get a little bit of a glimpse of what capitalism is," says Alberto Gonzalez, owner of Chicago's 90 Miles Cuban Cafe.
American also figures the demand will be tenfold out of Miami, where it says 50 percent of the Cuban-American population lives.
"Miami Dade is the heart and soul of the Cuban American community and no airline has made a greater commitment to Miami Dade than American," Parker said.
But other airlines are competing: United proposes a weekly Saturday flight to havana and Frontier Airlines wants a weekly Chicago to Varadero route.
For Alberto Gonzalez, proprietor of one of Chicago's best-known Cuban establishments, the diplomatic breakthrough that has led to possibility of easier access to a homeland is nothing short of remarkable.
"I want to share with my kids the house that I was born, the neighborhood where I was raised. There's always the feel of wanting to share that with my kids and I won't stop until I'm able to do that, Gonzalez says.
Gonzalez came to Chicago in the 1980's as a child as part of the Mariel boatlift and he says when he gets his U.S. passport, he'll be on one of those flights.