It’s been a long time coming, but the thawing relations between the US and Cuba have finally borne fruit for the airline industry. Every US carrier that’s interested has now submitted an application to fly to Cuba, and some of these requests are pretty nuts. For a market that may not pay off for a long time, everyone sure is excited.
The deal between the US and Cuba allows US carriers to operate 20 daily roundtrips between the US and Havana. In addition, they can operate 10 daily roundtrips between the US and EACH of 9 other cities in the country. (Presumably Cuban airlines can do the same into the US, but we’re a long away from a Cuban airline being certified to fly here.) Applications were due last week, and here’s what’s been requested.
Los Angeles – Havana (2x daily)
Miami – Havana (10x daily)
Miami – Santa Clara, Holguin, and Varadero (2x daily)
Charlotte and Dallas/Ft Worth – Havana (1x daily)
Miami – Camaguey and Cienfuegos (1x daily)
Los Angeles and Chicago/O’Hare – Havana (1x weekly)
Miami – Havana (2x daily)
Atlanta, New York/JFK, and Orlando – Havana (1x daily)
Chicago/O’Hare and Los Angeles – Havana (4x weekly)
New York/JFK – Havana (3x weekly)
Miami – Havana (1x daily)
Miami – Camaguey and Holguin (3x weekly)
Miami – Havana – Merida – Miami (5x weekly)
Miami – Havana (3x daily)
Denver – Havana (1x daily)
Miami – Santiago de Cuba (1x daily)
Miami – Camaguey (4x weekly)
Miami – Santa Clara (3x weekly)
Chicago/O’Hare and Philadelphia – Varadero (1x weekly)
Ft Lauderdale – Havana (4x daily)
New York/JFK, Orlando, and Tampa – Havana (2x daily)
Ft Lauderdale – Camaguey, Holguin, and Santa Clara (1x daily)
Newark and Boston – Havana (1x daily)
West Palm Beach – Havana (2x daily)
Ft Lauderdale – Havana, Santa Clara, Holguin, and Santiago de Cuba (1x daily)
Ft Myers – Havana (1x daily)
Ft Lauderdale – Camaguey (5x weekly)
Key West – Havana (5x weekly)
Ft Lauderdale – Varadero (4x weekly)
Ft Lauderdale – Cayo Coco and Manzanillo (3x weekly)
Ft Lauderdale – Cienfuegos (2x weekly)
Jacksonville – Havana (2x weekly)
Ft Lauderdale – Cayo Largo (1x weekly)
Ft Lauderdale – Havana (6x daily)
Tampa – Havana (2x weekly)
Ft Lauderdale – Varadero (2x daily)
Orlando – Havana (1x daily)
Ft Lauderdale – Santa Clara (1x daily)
Ft Lauderdale – Havana (2x daily)
Ft Myers – Havana (2x weekly)
Minneapolis – Havana (2x weekly)
Minneapolis – Varadero and Santa Clara (1x weekly, seasonal)
Newark – Havana (8x weekly)
Houston/Intercontinental, Chicago/O’Hare, and Washington/Dulles – Havana (1x weekly)
This ranges from the completely reasonable (FedEx and Spirit come to mind) to the insane (Frontier and Alaska). This is especially true considering that Cuba is not going to behave like any other Caribbean destination.
See, while Cuba has been a tourism destination for those in Europe and Canada for years, it’s not going to be one from the US for a long time. In fact, it’s still illegal for Americans to travel to Cuba for tourism. That will, of course, eventually change, but there isn’t the kind of infrastructure needed to support a massive influx of tourism from the US. It’s going to take a really long time.
For that reason, the real value here is going to be those who cater to VFR traffic, people who are Visiting Friends and Relatives. With half of the Cuban Americans living in the US residing in the Miami area (and most of the rest in other parts of Florida), it seems obvious that the bulk of service should go to that region. American certainly agrees.
Is it crazy that American wants ten daily flights from Miami to Havana? Sure. But I can only assume American is using the same bargaining strategy I used with my mom as a 2 year old.
Me: Can I have 100 cookies?
Mom: No, you can have 2.
Me: Great, thanks!
Should American get flights from Miami to Havana? Without question. Should it get 10? No way.
Outside of Havana, I think everyone here should get what they want. For Silver, this is good news (if the airline can find enough pilots). It is proposing to serve some pretty small places from Ft Lauderdale, but heck, with airplanes small enough, the airline might as well take a shot. But Southwest and Sun Country flying 737s to the resort town of Varadero? Ugh, that doesn’t seem like a good plan.
With no real competition for the country’s secondary airports, it’s Havana where airlines are sweating. All that being said, it’s really hard to see how many flights outside of Florida are going to work. Sure, maybe New York can support something (United and JetBlue maybe?) And Delta might be able to make Atlanta work just by aggregating connections. But Alaska flying two a day from LA? That’s a recipe for losing a ton of money. And Frontier’s attempt at a land grab is pretty crazy as well.
I expect the rationale here is that airlines are looking at this with a similar attitude as they look at Tokyo/Haneda. In Tokyo, they knew the flights wouldn’t do well with all the restrictions, but they wanted to get their foot in the door for when the regulations loosened down the line.
In Cuba, the airlines want to get their foot in the door because they know this will be a big market someday. It may not work right away, but it’s worth getting something. Some like Miami will be instantly successful (much to the detriment of the current burgeoning charter market, a good reason why Eastern wants to get in on this). But others are going to struggle mightily.
It’s safe to say that not all the flights that get awarded will still be operating a year from now. But some will work, and it’s worth it for most carriers to throw their hats into the ring. Cuba has tremendous potential; it’s just a matter of when that potential can be realized.