US Airlines Announce Desired Routes To Cuba

About a year ago sanctions began to be lifted between the US and Cuba, following the embargo which was in place for decades. This was huge news for those looking to travel to Cuba, since it created more circumstances under which US tourists could visit.

What is far from instant, however, is actually restoring commercial flights between the two countries. Air treaties between countries are complicated matters even under normal circumstances, let alone a situation like this, where they’re making up for decades of non-diplomacy.

As I wrote about a few weeks ago, the US and Cuba have signed an agreement to restore commercial service between the two countries.

Under this agreement, US airlines could start bidding on routes between the US and Cuba, for up to 110 flights per day. Only 20 of those daily frequencies could be commercial flights to Havana, though, while the other frequencies would have to be to other cities in Cuba (where there’s presumably a lot less demand).

Under the agreement, US airlines had a 15 day window where they could request rights for new Cuba routes. This window is now over, so we finally know which routes to Cuba US airlines have requested to fly. It’s worth noting that these routes are simply requests, and may or may not be granted.

With that in mind, which routes did US airlines request?

Here are the press releases from the various airlines:

With that in mind, which routes are US airlines looking at serving? Here’s a color coded map:

Proposed-US-Cuba-Flights

Then here’s a breakdown, alphabetically by airline name:

Alaska Airlines

  • Los Angeles to Havana (2x daily)

Proposed-US-Cuba-Flights-Alaska

American Airlines

  • Charlotte to Havana (1x daily)
  • Chicago to Havana (1x weekly)
  • Dallas to Havana (1x daily)
  • Los Angeles to Havana (1x weekly)
  • Miami to Camagüey (1x daily)
  • Miami to Cienfuegos (1x daily)
  • Miami to Havana (10x daily)
  • Miami to Holguín (2x daily)
  • Miami to Santa Clara (2x daily)
  • Miami to Varadero (2x daily)

Proposed-US-Cuba-Flights-American

Delta Air Lines

  • Atlanta to Havana (1x daily)
  • Miami to Havana (2x daily)
  • New York to Havana (1x daily)
  • Orlando to Havana (1x daily)

Proposed-US-Cuba-Flights-Delta

Frontier Airlines

  • Chicago to Varadero (1x weekly)
  • Denver to Havana (1x daily)
  • Miami to Havana (3x daily)
  • Miami to Camagüey (4x weekly)
  • Miami to Santa Clara (3x weekly)
  • Miami to Santiago (1x daily)
  • Philadelphia to Varadero (1x weekly)

Proposed-US-Cuba-Flights-Frontier

JetBlue Airways

  • Boston to Havana (1x daily)
  • Fort Lauderdale to Camagüey (1x daily)
  • Fort Lauderdale to Havana (4x daily)
  • Fort Lauderdale to Holguín (1x daily)
  • Fort Lauderdale to Santa Clara (1x daily)
  • New York to Havana (2x daily)
  • Newark to Havana (1x daily)
  • Orlando to Havana (2x daily)
  • Tampa to Havana (2x daily)

Proposed-US-Cuba-Flights-JetBlue

Southwest Airlines

  • Fort Lauderdale to Havana (6x daily)
  • Fort Lauderdale to Varadero (1x daily)
  • Fort Lauderdale to Santa Clara (1x daily)
  • Orlando to Havana (1x daily)
  • Tampa to Havana (2x daily)

Proposed-US-Cuba-Flights-Southwest

United Airlines

  • Chicago to Havana (1x weekly)
  • Houston to Havana (1x weekly)
  • Newark to Havana (1x daily)
  • Washington to Havana (1x weekly)

Proposed-US-Cuba-Flights-United

My thoughts on requested Cuba routes

Wow… wowwow.

First of all, let’s keep in mind that only a total of 20 daily commercial flights will be allowed between the US and Havana, while airlines have requested more than double as many. So most of these routes won’t become a reality, at least at the frequencies requested. Over the coming months we’ll find out which routes actually get approved, and which get rejected.

I’m sure it’ll be unpopular for me to say this, but I think airlines are way off base here. Way off base. There will certainly be some demand for travel to Cuba, but this many flights a day? No way, at least not in the coming years.

Yes, there will be an initial interest for people who want to visit Cuba, and there are also plenty of people with family in Cuba. But in the short term Cuba simply doesn’t have the infrastructure in the short term to handle this amount of traffic.

I expect the routes between Florida and Cuba will be profitable, given that the flights are short and there’s a huge Cuban population in Florida. So I’d be willing to bet airlines can turn profits on those routes, even if the flights are half full. After all, the fare on a Miami to Havana flight will likely be higher than the fare on a Miami to Tampa flight, even though they’re roughly the same length.

But some of these routes must be a joke. Alaska wants to start twice daily service between Los Angeles and Havana. Seriously?! American is by far the strongest airline in Latin America and has the most charter flights to Cuba as it stands, and they only want to operate once weekly service between Los Angeles and Havana. There’s probably a reason for that.

In their press release, Alaska cites that the Los Angeles metro area has the largest Cuban-American population in the Western United States. That’s just about the equivalent of making the claim of being the straightest guy at a Britney Spears concert.

The Cuban population in Los Angeles is ~50,000, compared to a Cuban population of over a million in Miami.

Bottom line

The race for Cuba flights sort of reminds me of when Tokyo’s Haneda Airport was opened up to longhaul flights from the US, and the US carriers thought it was the best thing since sliced bread… yet no US airline has done especially well at Haneda, and several routes have been canceled.

I think Cuba tourism will go through a cycle over the coming years. Demand will likely be pretty high once these flights actually become bookable, from people curious to visit Cuba. But beyond that, it’ll likely be at least a decade before infrastructure in Cuba can handle this amount of demand.

Either way, my money is on airlines launching the maximum number of allowable flights to Cuba, and then pretty quickly reducing capacity when demand doesn’t reflect the supply. Out of South Florida it’s tough to go wrong, given the operating costs of a 235 mile flight are low, but aside from that…

What do you make of US airlines’ requests for Cuba service? Anyone else think US carriers are being very aspirational?

(Tip of the hat to The Points Guy)

About lucky

Ben Schlappig (aka Lucky) is a travel consultant, blogger, and avid points collector. He travels about 400,000 miles a year, primarily using miles and points to fund his first class experiences. He chronicles his adventures, along with industry news, here at One Mile At A Time.

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Comments

  1. I’m happy to see at least one request out of PHL. I’d certainly like to visit, and our sons’ choir makes international trips (Spain, Portugal, Ireland) and I’ve suggested Cuba a few times (no jet lag!).

    As for Varadero versus Havana? Eh, we’re about that far from EWR/JFK and I’ve seen the Jersey Turnpike plenty of times. I wouldn’t mind a bit of travel to get to Havana after landing.

  2. Having been to Punta Cana last year I picture Cuba to be similar in terms of being generations behind. Visiting a third world county is not fun. I believe it’ll be 10-15 years before tourists will enjoy their time their.

  3. Woohoo I’m happy for the Florida flights!!! Hopefully they get approved, I see JAX (Silver, if it’s true), TPA (Southwest), and of course, MCO!
    MIA is also great but a wee bit too far to drive!

    Great news!

  4. While it’s definitely exciting to think about all of the potential options us Americans will have for getting to Cuba, the country is not ready for the increase in tourism.

    There are some hotels in the country, but most are booked up months in advance and can be quite pricey. I’m not so sure that the average American will feel comfortable staying in people’s homes (Casa Particulars). We personally loved the experience during our visit at the end of December.

    Besides hotel rooms, there will most likely not be enough bus service to get around the island, taxis and basic things like bottled water.

    With time, I’d think the country would work to improve this since tourism= $$$.

    Check out my post about 14 Things We Learned From Visiting Cuba-http://michaelwtravels.boardingarea.com/2016/01/things-we-learned-from-visiting-cuba/#sthash.e6zNZS32.dpbs

    @Marty Dee We had a great time during our trip and I’d love to go back. I don’t recall seeing any miserable-looking tourists wandering around the country…

  5. @ Lucky / others — while I can certainly understand overbidding/overly optimistic approach, any idea why United only requested 1x weekly out of Houston? I’d expect at least 3-4 a week.

  6. Great news for Cuba, it looks an amazing country and I’m sure it will become a big vacation destination for US citizens looking for great weather and beaches but without huge journey times.

  7. Is there any criteria on how the requests will be divided up?

    Specifically, will current charter service be taken into account? If that’s the case, that’d give Americam, JetBlue, and (if I remember right) Delta an advantage, especially on non-hub service, like TPA-HAV.

    If not, anyone want to bet how much the Feds will favour Southwest like they always seem to do?

  8. My wife (a Brazilian) just got back from Cuba two weeks ago. She said it sucks. Super poor, bad food and max 56.6k internet speed that costs $4 an hour!!! It’s a shame to see people suffer for the glory of some wack leader…

  9. Tourism by Canadians and Europeans is already huge in Cuba. Yes, some growth will be necessary, but it’s really not a disaster zone the way some of you seem to think. Go to a resort in Cuba you’ll have no idea you’re not in Dominican, Mexico, Jamaica, etc. It is true that the food outside the resorts leaves something to be desired though.

  10. I’m disappointed that Spirit doesn’t want to enter Cuba. That means the fares to Cuba will probably be higher than to other Latin American destinations.

  11. Check out my trips to Cuba at http://www.TheCigarLover.com

    It is an amazing country with even more amazing people. The people who complain about food or internet speeds don’t get it. There are incredible restaurants in Havana that can be had for less than $10 a meal. You have to do a little work to find the best, just like anywhere else in the world!

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