American Airlines expects to launch regular flights to Cuba in first half of 2016

Posted: 25-Jan-16 10:32

As was recently confirmed by American Airlines executive, Howard Kass, the US airline is already gearing up for the launch of what could be the first ever set of regular direct flights to Cuba in over five decades. According to Miami Herald, the US carrier is expecting to be able to start direct commercial flights to the island in the first half of 2016, adding that Miami will play a key role in how soon this process comes to fruitful terms.

American Airlines expects to launch regular flights to Cuba in first half of 2016

American Airlines’ executive and Vice President of Regulatory Affairs, Howard Kass, recently opened up about his company’s optimism in becoming one of the pioneering carriers to launch the first regular flights to Cuba from the US in over half a century.

According to declarations made to Miami-based online publication, Miami Herald, and despite formalities and paperwork still being in the early stages of a several-weeks-long translation and verification process, Mr Kass is positive that things will move swiftly on to allow for regular flights to resume within the expected timeframe.

" We still believe we’ll be flying scheduled service to Cuba within the first half of 2016."

As things now stand, a preliminary agreement (with the emphasis now being on the preliminary part) between US and Cuban officials to re-establish scheduled flights between the two nations was reached on 16th December 2015. The agreement also include a clause allowing the continuance of charter flights between both countries, which have long been serving as the only bridge linking the former foes.

But an official agreement is still in the making, and everyone involved has no option but play the waiting game wait until that is finally released. Only then can interested airlines make a move and submit their applications for Cuban routes following the U.S. Department of Transportation’s official notice instructing U.S carriers how to proceed for said applications.

A possible setback can be the amount of petitions the DOT receive for direct flights to Havana, as Kass explains:

“I would suspect Havana to be oversubscribed.”

In such a scenario of fierce competition there may be a further delay as airlines plead their case why they should be granted certain routes and flight frequencies. The decision will ultimately be in the DOT’s hands and if there isn’t much competition for secondary Cuban markets, approval for said routes might come sooner than for Havana.

And with other big U.S. airline giants having already stepped forward to show their interest in bidding for the new Cuba routes it looks like the last hurdle to be overcome in the race of who gets to Cuba first will be anything but straightwforward. As was recently revealed by the head of the Cuban Foreign Ministry’s U.S. division, Josefina Vidal, airlines must also sign contracts with Cuba’s national carrier Cubana de Aviacion, as well as with the Civil Aeronatuics Institute in Cuba. At the time Vidal insisted:

" It’s a complex task, very technical, and the United States must complete various steps, bidding [on routes], because there are many airlines and all have equal rights in terms of market share."

JetBlue for example has been one of the leading carriers to offer more charter flights to Cuba after the ease of travel restrictions, having stepped into the market with direct routes to Havana from New York’s JFK airport, Tampa and Fort Lauderdale and from Tampa to Santa Clara. According to JetBlue officials, their airline is positioned to be “the carrier of choice for travel to Cuba”.

Speaking on JetBlue’s behalf, the company’s Senior Vice President, Scott Laurence said:

" Interest in Cuba has reached levels not seen for a generation,” said Scott Laurence, JetBlue’s senior vice president airline planning. When the agreement with Cuba is published, JetBlue will review it to understand how JetBlue can expand from charter service to regularly scheduled service.

" We hope the next dot on our Caribbean route map will be Havana, and possibly even other destinations in Cuba,."

Others to have shown a clear interest in operating regular services to Cuba include United Airlines, Southwest and Delta, with a spokeswoman for the latter stating:

" The interest is still standing. We’re just waiting for the government."

Sarah Lora, the spokesperson in question stopped short of revealing which routes Delta is interested in but did let in on the fact that she expects the carrier’s Atlanta hub to be centric to its plans.

However, despite all the possible rival bidders (the officially declared and undeclared) Mr Kass remains highly positive on American Airlines’s behalf:

" We’re optimistic that DOT will move swiftly to permit U.S. carriers to offer scheduled service... We’re already the largest U.S. carrier to Cuba and we intend to remain the largest U.S. carrier in the future."

And the numbers certainly back Kass’ words, as in 2015 it had operated a total of 1,200 charter flights to Cuba; more than any other U.S. carrier.

For American Airlines, Miami is crucial in this bidding game, but they are also looking into expanding elsewhere in the U.S. and offering newer departing points for American passengers:

" Miami is very important to us — a big part of our plans,” said Kass. “But we’ll also be applying for other U.S. gateways..."

For now and according to what was revealed during the preliminary agreement between Cuba and the U.S. to offer regular commercial flights, the government is expected to give the green light to up to 20 flights to Havana per day and 10 daily flights for 9 other Cuban cities with international airports.

At present flying to Cuba via a charter flight from the U.S. tends to involve lengthy check-ins four hors prior to departure, long waits in long lines behind luggage carts piled with large parcels and suitcases and a cumbersome check-in process that requires queuing up several times. With commercial regular flights in the horizon, Mr Kass expects this to soon change:

" If it works as we anticipated, the process of flying to and from Cuba will be similar to flying to any of our other Latin American destination. There should be fewer formalities."


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