The U.S. Department of Transportation has provisionally approved new flight routes from the USA to Havana in Cuba. The proposals are currently open for public comment, and a final decision on these routes is expected by the end of April.
These new flights reverse the trend seen in 2017, which saw carriers reducing their services to Cuba. President of tour company Insight Cuba, Tom Popper, explains demand has recently been rising for U.S.-Cuba routes after the dip in interest last year.
“What is encouraging now is, we are starting to see a healthy increase… This came about probably mid-January, February. We started to see an increase in web traffic, an increase in leads or demands for information and increases in bookings,” says Popper.
When Donald Trump took office in January 2017, his administration announced retraction of the Obama administration’s Cuban travel regulations. This led to confusion among travelers as these changes were initially presented as a rollback of Obama’s reforms even though they did not change the nature of travel to Cuba from the United States.
In addition, the alleged sonic attacks on the U.S. Embassy and the subsequent travel warning from the Department of State led to a further depression in demand for flights to Cuba. The situation was made more extreme in the wake of Hurricane Irene.
When scheduled passenger flights began for the first time in over 50 years in February 2016, competition to secure routes was fierce. The limit of 20 round trips per day was met by August 2016.
Then, as a result of the events of 2017, carriers began pulling out of Cuba. These carriers included Frontier Airlines, which operated flights between Havana and Miami, and Spirit Airlines, which operated between Havana and Fort Lauderdale. In addition, Delta Air Lines reduced the number of flights from JFK to Havana. Finally, in January this year, Alaska Airlines ceased its daily route between Los Angeles and Havana.
The new routes proposed by the DOT seek to fill the gaps left by these carriers while attempting to meet growing demand. United Airlines and Mesa Airlines will share flights from Houston to Havana. They expand United’s current offerings in Houston and are intended as a replacement for Alaska’s Los Angeles service.
“On behalf of United Airlines, we applaud the U.S. Department of Transportation’s decision to increase United service between Houston and Havana from Saturday-only to daily,” says United’s Vice President, Regulatory and Policy, Steven Morrissey.
American Airlines and Delta will be awarded flights from Miami to Havana, while Southwest Airlines and JetBlue Airlines will get flights from Fort Lauderdale to Havana. Additionally, JetBlue will operate a weekly flight from Boston.
The focus on routes between south Florida and Cuba in particular shows there is a market for flights in this area. All the new flight routes service Havana rather than regional airports in Cuba. This, explains Popper, is the result of how new Cuba is a travel destination for Americans.
“For 99 percent of all Americans,” he says, “it’s the first time they are visiting Cuba. It’s like the first time you’re visiting France. It’s unlikely you’re not visiting Paris.”
Miami Airport image by Sebastian Carlosena.