Competition among airlines for Cuba flights is fierce

Posted: 12-Mar-18 09:18

Even though some airlines have discontinued offering flights from the US to Cuba, competition for flights to the island remains fierce among American airlines. Frontier and Spirit Airlines ended their flights to Cuba, but American Airlines and Delta Airlines are both lobbying the Department of Transportation to increase the number of flights they are allotted.

Competition among airlines for Cuba flights is fierce

Although some airlines have discontinued their service to Cuba in recent months, the competition remains hotly contested among other US carriers competing to boost their flights to Havana.

The US Transportation Department set a limit of 20 daily round-trips to Havana, with more flights to other cities, when it reopened scheduled passenger service in February 2016. The move was part of a revival of diplomatic relations under the Obama administration for the first time in more than 50 years.

The competition to serve the Caribbean destination was fierce, and all Havana slots were allocated by August 2016. But since then, with a weak market and diplomatic tensions, several airlines have dropped out.

Frontier Airlines ended daily round-trips between Miami and Havana. Spirit Airlines ended twice-daily flights between Fort Lauderdale and Havana. While the Department weighed who should get those slots, Alaska Airlines ended its daily service between Los Angeles and Havana in January.

Then Delta Air Lines announced that it would drop its New York JFK to Havana service from Sunday through Friday in February while keeping its Saturday flights.

Despite the concerns, interest among rivals remains strong as the Department gauges who should fill the openings. Airlines are sniping at each other over their proposals such as where they fly from and the types of planes proposed.

American Airlines would like to add daily service between Miami and Havana with Boeing 737-800 aircraft. Barring that, American would like Saturday- and Sunday-only service with the same plane, or at least Saturday-only service.

American noted that plummeting demand drove other airlines out of the market. But American argued that it provides the best service from Miami to Havana, as measured by passenger traffic and how full the planes fly with nearly four out of five seats full.

The airline stated in its filing:

“The incomparable performance of (Miami to Havana) service, especially in recent months, makes clear that demand for the additional US to Havana exists at MIA and MIA alone.” 

Delta is asking for an additional daily flight between Miami and Havana, basically to replace Frontier. The airline highlighted its interest in the Caribbean, where its service has grown from 2.13 million seats in 2013 to 2.96 million seats last year.

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