Southwest cancels two thirds of Cuban routes amid disappointing demand

Posted: 15-Jul-17 09:13

Yet another US airline has made the decision to cut back on services to the Cuba, this time dropping full routes rather than simply reducing capacity, in the wake of low ticket sales and impending new restrictions imposed by Trump. Southwest Airlines are the latest to scale back the number of routes to the island.

Southwest cancels two thirds of Cuban routes amid disappointing demand

It was only a matter of months ago when there was a veritable gold rush on amongst US airlines, vying for dominance in the new emerging market for travel between America and Cuba. Catalysed by new, more relaxed regulations for passengers from the States wishing to visit the Caribbean island, it seems the bubble is definitely beginning to burst.

Southwest Airlines was one of the carriers jumping on the renewed demand, although it seems it may have over-estimated just how much interest there would be. According to a report on USA Today, the brand is now dropping two of its three routes, blaming "disappointing uptake" for the decision. This isn’t the first airline to reduce services, either.

As of September 4, routes into Varadero and Santa Clara will be discontinued, allowing Southwest to "concentrate on its future service to Cuba in Havana". Existing offerings between Fort Lauderdale and Tampa and Havana will also be retained. There may be more to the story than a simple lack of people wanting to take up the opportunity, too with President Donald Trump’s June announcement regarding a tightening of travel restrictions apparently a cause for concern in the flight industry.

The new rules, which will come into effect imminently, will have the biggest impact on independent travellers, who will no longer be able to take advantage of "people to people" trips- one of nine reasons deemed legitimate for journeys between the US and Cuba under the Obama administration. Designed to increase understanding of culture and society, going forward visitors will need to be part of a guided tour group, a decision that will not be welcomed by those with a desire to explore solo.

In a statement, Steve Goldberg, Southwest’s senior vice president of ground operations, said:

“Our decision to discontinue the other Cuba flights comes after an in-depth analysis of our performance over several months which confirmed that there is not a clear path to sustainability serving these markets, particularly with the continuing prohibition in U.S. law on tourism to Cuba for American citizens.”

American Airlines and JetBlue have already cut capacity for Cuba, although neither actually dropped full routes as Southwest has done. Nevertheless, it points to a rocky road ahead for carriers offering these services, with the majority of major US airlines being quick off the mark to bid for approval to begin services.  

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