Christie opposes United flights between Newark and Cuba

By Matt Arco and Steve Strunsky | NJ Advance Media for
on October 20, 2015

Gov. Chris Christie addresses the crowd inside a barn at the house. Gov. Christie Attends a house party hosted by Beverly Bruce. NJ Gov. Christie campaigns for President in NH. Saturday August 29, 2015. Tuftonboro, NH


TRENTON — Gov. Chris Christie on Tuesday told the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey it would be "unacceptable" to begin operating flights between Newark's airport and Cuba.

In a letter to Port Authority Chairman John Degnan, his appointee, the governor urged Port Authority commissioners to reject the proposed flights, arguing that permitting them would be akin to "rewarding the Cuban government for continuing to harbor a fugitive."

Christie, who has been an outspoken critic of President Obama's moves to  normalize relations with Cuba, has blasted the president for not demanding fugitive Joanne Chesimard return to the United States. Chesimard escaped to Cuba after being convicted in 1977 of killing a New Jersey state trooper and has been living in the country since.

"I understand that the Port Authority is considering a request to open regular flights between Cuba and Newark Liberty International Airport," the governor and Republican presidential candidate wrote in the letter, obtained by NJ Advance Media. "It is unacceptable to me as governor to have any flights between New Jersey and Cuba until, and unless, convicted cop-killer and escaped fugitive Joanne Chesimard is returned to New Jersey to face justice."

Christie's office declined to comment on the letter.

Degnan said in an interview that United Airlines had applied with federal officials for permission to begin Cuba service, and that the carrier asked the Port Authority for a letter in support of its application, which the agency provided.

Degnan said the request from United did not come before the agency's board of commissioners, and instead was dealt within internally by the agency's aviation department.

However, with the governor's interest in the subject, Degnan said the board was now likely to get involved, possibly at its regular monthly meeting Thursday.   

"I think the governor's strongly expressed opinion requires that we immediately look very closely into this request by United for a flight to Havana from Newark and that review should be within a couple of days," Degan said.

United issued a statement acknowledging it has sought support for the Cuba route from the Port Authority, a common move for any airline seeking to establish a new route regardless of the destination.

"We asked the Port Authority to seek authorization from Customs & Border Protection for Newark Liberty to serve as a gateway for U.S.–Cuba service, subject to an air service agreement being reached between the two countries," United said. "We remain very interested in serving Cuba as soon as we are able to do so, and believe United's service would benefit the airport and the region.

JetBlue operates charter service between Havana and John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, which is also operated by the Port Authority.   

In July, Christie said Obama was "dead wrong" for permitting the United States and Cuba to open embassies in their capital cities, and for normalizing relations with Cuba.

The governor, while on the campaign trail, accused United States citizens traveling to Cuba amid Obama's plans to normalize relations with the country of "participating in the oppression" imposed by Cuba's rulers.

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