Nearly every big U.S. airline plans to apply for Cuba flights
TODAY IN THE SKY
Ben Mutzabaugh, USA TODAY 9:42 p.m. EST February 16, 2016
The United States and Cuba officially signed an aviation agreement
Tuesday that paves the way for the first regularly scheduled flights
between the countries in nearly five decades.
The deal opens up 110 flights to Cuba on U.S. carriers. Of those, 20
will be to Havana. Beyond the 20 allocated for Havana, there will be 10
daily flights allowed on routes to each of Cuba’s nine other
The Associated Press writes Tuesday’s announcement opens “a 15-day
window for U.S. airlines to request rights to the new Cuba routes. U.S.
carriers would then have to strike deals with Cuban aviation officials,
a process the U.S. hopes will be complete by the fall.”
Still, even as restrictions to Cuba are eased, conditions remain. U.S.
travelers must still certify theirs trip are for one of 12 purposes.
Tourism itself is not permitted. But the only existing flights to Cuba
are sold by charter outfits. Regularly scheduled passenger flights that
are sold and marketed by the big U.S. carriers are sure to ease trip
And, against that backdrop, nearly every big U.S. airline said it
would apply for at least some Cuba routes.
American, the USA’s biggest carrier, was among those affirming its
interest in applying for the newly available routes to Cuba.
American said it will definitely apply for flights to Cuba from its hub
at Miami, already one of the USA’s leading gateways to the Caribbean and
Latin America. Additionally, American said in a statement that it is
“also considering applying to serve Cuba from other hubs.”
Other airlines rushed out similar announcements.
Among those was JetBlue, one of the fastest growing carriers in the
Caribbean this decade.
JetBlue indicated it would seek approval for multiple routes between the
nations, echoing comments it has made previously about its intentions
“JetBlue eagerly awaits the opportunity to grow our service with
regularly scheduled routes between various U.S. and Cuban cities,” Rob
Land, JetBlue’s senior vice president government affairs, said in a
statement. “We hope the next dots on our Caribbean route map will be
regularly scheduled service to and from Cuba.”
Delta Air Lines joined the list, saying it would apply for Cuba flights
from its main hub in Atlanta. The carrier indicated Cuba flights would
be considered from its other hubs, too.
“The U.S. Transportation Department is expected to notify applying
airlines by summer which frequencies and routes are approved,” Joe
Esposito, Delta’s Vice President – Network Planning, said in a
statement. “In the meantime Delta is diligently preparing to serve the
United Airlines said it “intends to apply to offer service between some
of its global gateways and Havana … .” United did not specify which hubs
it would seek approval for.
United has positioned its hub at Houston Bush Intercontinental as a
major gateway to Latin America, so it would come as little surprise if
Houston entered the mix for United. The same is true for United’s hub at
Newark Liberty, one of the main airports serving New York City – North
American’s top aviation market.
Southwest’s statement read a bit more cautiously than its rivals, saying
only that Tuesday’s “signed agreement allows us to engage in a process
to consider that service.” Still, it would not be a surprise if
Southwest sought flights to Cuba.
Even Spirit Airlines – the USA’s biggest “ultra low-cost carrier – said
it would to enter the bidding, with spokesman Paul Berry telling AP the
carrier plans to submit a proposal. Spirit’s operates its busiest hub at
Fort Lauderdale, from where it flies to numerous destinations in the
Caribbean and Latin America.
Seattle-based Alaska Airlines sounded a slightly more cautious tone on Cuba.
“We are currently evaluating whether this is the right opportunity for
Alaska,” spokeswoman Bobbie Egan said in a statement to Today in the
Sky. Alaska Air’s two biggest hubs are in Seattle and Portland, two
markets that may not be the most obvious gateways for Cuba.
Given the limited number of Havana slots, it is possible that U.S.
carriers will wage aggressive campaigns to win those rights. It’s
unclear just how much demand U.S. airlines might have for the flights to
the nine other Cuban airports.
China and Japan have been among the most coveted restricted markets
during the past two decades, with U.S. airlines aggressively bidding on
high-profile new routes as they’ve become available to places like
Tokyo, Shanghai and Beijing. And, during the past year, relations
between American and Delta have even become testy as those carriers have
argued about the rights for a daily round-trip to Tokyo’s Haneda Airport.
That type of competition could emerge for the new flights that will soon
be allowed to Cuba. Nearly every big airline presumably will want access
to Havana, but the 20 daily flights could get chewed up quickly –
especially if airlines request multiple daily flights from more than one
Stay tuned …
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