Hauf does not expect the flights from BWI to be packed with people visiting relatives, as are flights out of Florida and New York. Just over 10,000 people in Maryland — about 0.2 percent of the state's population — identified themselves in the 2010 census as being ethnically Cuban.

Quintana, the Havana Road owner, said she promised her father that she would not return to Cuba as long as a communist regime was in power, even though she has many family members living there.

"I cannot condone [travel to Cuba] until my country is free," Quintana said.

Alicia Giro, who has been in the U.S. for about 50 years and worked for three decades in the Baltimore County public schools, agreed with Quintana's sentiment that missionaries should not pursue travel to Cuba until communism ends there.

"They want to do good and they want to go there, and then they see that there are all of these restrictions," Giro said. "Everything is controlled. People here are very naive. There is no freedom and no human rights."

But Mason said she has many Cuban relatives whom she has not seen since the early 1960s. She would relish the opportunity to see them, she said, if she could afford the cost and if her stay would not be a burden on them.

Island Travel first sought permission to operate charters to Havana during the Clinton administration in 2000, Hauf said. But the company dropped the effort after President George W. Bush came into office and ended a brief thaw in Cuban-American relations, he said.

The company renewed efforts to gain approval as a charter operator after President Obama took office and secured landing rights from the Cuban government in July. Hauf said Island Travel would offer its first charter flight Sunday from Tampa, Fla. He said Baltimore will be the second city where it operates.

In March, the company will operate from the only gateway to Havana between Atlanta and New York. Hauf expects strong demand from the Washington area with its many diplomats, government officials, universities and journalists.

As demand increases, his company expects to add more flights. "Our goal is to have a minimum of two," he said.

Dean said the flights will apparently be the first nonstop service ever between BWI and Cuba's capital. He said the airport has no record of scheduled service in the pre-Castro days. There was an exchange of charter flights between the cities about a decade ago when the Orioles played Cuba's national baseball team.

The spokesman would not speculate on whether hosting the charter operation would give BWI a leg up on scheduled service if Washington and Havana were to normalize relations.

"It's a little premature to say that," he said.

michael.dresser@baltsun.com

steve.kilar@baltsun.com