Despite Dropouts, Competition for Cuba Flights Remains Strong

Aeropuerto Internacional José Martí from the air

By Anna Breuer on 27 March 2018
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While the tightening of travel restrictions to Cuba for American citizens has dampened enthusiasm, adventurous travelers can still visit the island nation and may continue to travel independently.

While several airlines have given up on service to Cuba, carriers are still in some cases adding additional flights, albeit more strategically than a year ago when the floodgates opened up.

As part of the restoration of diplomatic relations between the two nations, the U.S. Department of Transportation allocated 20 round-trip flights to Havana, with additional flights to other cities. The fact that ultra low-cost carriers Frontier Airlines, Silver Airways, and Spirit Airways as well as legacy carrier Alaska Airlines have discontinued service to Cuba has freed slots for other airlines and the competition for those slots is fierce.

On final approach to Aeropuerto Internacional José Martí

On final approach to Aeropuerto Internacional José Martí

Sensing greater potential from Miami, American Airlines wants to increase the frequency of its service from that city to Havana to daily.

“The incomparable performance of [the] service, especially in recent months, makes clear that demand for additional U.S. to Havana exists at MIA and MIA alone,” the airline said in its filing to the DOT.

Delta, which has seen a drop in passenger load factor on the Atlanta to Havana route drop from a peak of 85.7% to 60.6% by the end of last year and from New York to Havana from 82.9% to 56.8%, still sees merit in Miami-Havana flights, which have a load factor of roughly 85%, and is asking the DOT to award it a slot, even after switching its daily non-stop service from JFK to weekly.

Meanwhile, United Airlines and regional partner Mesa Airlines are proposing flights from Houston to Havana on Sunday through Friday, while Southwest Airlines wants to offer daily service from Fort Lauderdale to Havana.

Of course, while the number of American travelers to Cuba rose to 619,000 in 2017, more than six times the pre-Obama Administration level, some restrictions, such as the elimination of unescorted “people-to-people” visits, has led to a drop, and new restrictions on where U.S. citizens can spend their money further limit the possibilities.

While many airlines eagerly entered the Cuban market, in some cases oversaturating it, some routes clearly haven’t panned out and those in charge of network planning should take heed from Alaska’s explanation of its decision to drop Cuba flights, saying it would redeploy planes used on those routes “to other markets the airline serves where demand continues to be strong.”

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

Accura News

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