U.S. Airlines Bid for New Scheduled Routes to Cuba
The service will include about 20 daily flights to Havana
By SUSAN CAREY
Updated March 2, 2016 5:36 p.m. ET
U.S. airlines hustled to apply for access to 20 daily flights to Havana
before a Transportation Department deadline Wednesday, as U.S. and Cuban
officials prepared to restart scheduled air service between the two
nations for the first time in over 50 years.
Based on the applications from more than a half-dozen carriers, the
requests to serve Havana exceeded the number of flights available, with
some of the proposed routes overlapping.
That means the Transportation Department will have to decide which
airlines make the best case, something the airlines can be expected to
joust over publicly.
There appeared to be far less interest in 10 daily round-trip flights to
each of nine other Cuban airports, which suggested those route rights
could be assigned relatively quickly and without competitive drama.
Wednesday’s applicants included American Airlines Group Inc., Delta Air
Lines Inc., United Continental Airlines Inc., Southwest Airlines Co.,
JetBlue Airways Corp., ultralow-cost carrier Spirit Airlines Inc.,
Alaska Air Group Inc., parent of Alaska Airlines, and Silver Airways
Corp., a turboprop carrier that flies within Florida and the Bahamas.
The Transportation Department plans to study the requests; final
comments and answers are due by March 21.
Passenger and cargo carriers are eligible to apply, and there are no
restrictions on aircraft types or sizes, U.S. government officials have
The department expects to make its decision this summer, and carriers
could begin selling tickets on those flights in the fall.
The new aviation protocol won’t affect charter flights now linking the
U.S. and Cuba; those flights can continue with unlimited frequency.
Currently there are 10 to 15 such flights a day, most of them provided
by American Airlines, followed by JetBlue.
Both charter and scheduled passengers would have to show that they fall
into one of 12 categories of authorized travel to Cuba. Such trips must
be for family visits, educational or religious activities, humanitarian
projects, athletic competitions, exhibitions and the like, according to
U.S. regulation, and not purely for tourism.
American, the largest U.S. carrier by traffic and the leading carrier to
Latin America, said in its application that it wants to serve Havana a
total of 12 times a day from three of its U.S. hubs, in addition to
making a weekly flight from each of two other hubs.
In addition, American asked for eight daily flights to five other Cuban
airports from its Miami hub and for 10 daily flights to Havana from Miami.
In its application, American said the current prohibition on tourist
travel makes it unclear how much demand there would be for flights to
Cuba. It also said there were “serious infrastructure limitations in
Cuba airport facilities and hotel accommodations…that will present very
real practical challenges,” particularly, it said, for airlines that
lack the experience American has gained from decades of operating
charter flights to the country.
JetBlue, the No. 5 U.S. carrier, said it asked the Transportation
Department to approve a total of 12 daily flights to Havana from the
Florida cities of Fort Lauderdale, Tampa and Orlando; New York’s John F.
Kennedy International Airport; Boston; and Newark.
The discounter also requested three daily flights from Fort Lauderdale
to three smaller Cuban airports. JetBlue, which has a big presence in
the Caribbean and Central America, said it hopes to start scheduled
flights in September.
Southwest, which ranks No. 4 in the U.S. by traffic and is the largest
hauler of domestic passengers, said it requested nine daily flights to
Havana, six from Fort Lauderdale, two from Tampa and one from Orlando.
It also asked for three daily flights from Fort Lauderdale to two other
Southwest was purely a domestic carrier until 2011, but has slowly added
flights to the Caribbean and Central America.
‘We’re excited to compete for this important service’
—United CEO Oscar Munoz
No. 2 carrier Delta said it requested five daily flights to Havana, two
from Miami and one each from Atlanta, JFK and Orlando.
United Continental, the third-largest carrier, said it aims to offer
daily flights from its Newark hub to Havana, with a second flight on
Saturdays, and Saturday-only flights to the Cuban capital from its hubs
in Houston, Chicago and Washington Dulles International Airport. “We’re
excited to compete for this important service,” said United Chief
Executive Oscar Munoz, in a statement.
Spirit Airlines said it planned to apply on Wednesday but wouldn’t
discuss its request.
Silver Airways, based in Fort Lauderdale, said it applied to serve
Havana from five cities in Florida: Key West, West Palm Beach,
Jacksonville, Fort Myers and Fort Lauderdale.
The company said it asked for permission to serve the nine smaller Cuban
airports from Fort Lauderdale.
Silver didn’t say how many daily flights it is seeking with its 34-seat
Write to Susan Carey at email@example.com
Source: U.S. Airlines Bid for New Scheduled Routes to Cuba – WSJ –