Eight U.S. Airlines Approved to Fly to Havana

Bloomberg BNA

By: Stephanie Beasley

Eight U.S. airlines have been granted tentative approval to operate nonstop flights to Havana.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced July 7 that out of a dozen airlines that applied, eight got the nod to operate up to 20 daily round-trip flights total between the U.S. and the Cuban capital as soon as this fall.

Those eight are: Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways, Frontier Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines and United Airlines.

The flights will depart from four Florida cities—Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Orlando and Tampa—as well as Atlanta; Charlotte, N.C.; Houston, Los Angeles and New York.

The Transportation Department said it will review any objections submitted to the agency by July 22. A final decision will be issued later this summer.

Rebuilding Relations

Reinstituting direct flights to Havana is the most recent example of the Obama administration's efforts to normalize relations with Cuba, Foxx said.

“Today we take another important step toward delivering on President Obama’s promise to reengage Cuba,” he said. “Restoring regular air service holds tremendous potential to reunite Cuban American families and foster education and opportunities for American businesses of all sizes.”

Last month, the DOT approved six U.S. airlines to serve nine Cuban cities outside of Havana (See previous story, 06/13/16).

The departure cities for the Havana flights were selected based on their Cuban-American populations and the size of their aviation hubs. The decision makes sense because the flights likely will serve mostly Cuban-American passengers traveling to the island to visit relatives, John S. Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, told Bloomberg BNA.

Routes Could Be Unprofitable

Americans continue to have restricted legal access to the island, Kavulich said. Thus, some of the routes could prove to be unprofitable.

If that turns out to be the case, some airlines could return the routes to the DOT and the agency could then offer other airlines the opportunity to increase the number of flights they can operate, he said. That might be especially appealing to large, traditional air carriers such as United and American that each received just 40 percent of the flights they requested.

“Probably the first grouping for unprofitability would be the non-Havana flights,” Kavulich said, adding that most Cuban-Americans would want to fly into the capital.

The nine Cuban cities previously approved to be served by U.S. flights are Camaguey, Cayo Coco, Cayo Largo, Cienfuegos, Holguin, Manzanillo, Matanzas, Santa Clara and Santiago de Cuba.

Calls to Lift the Ban

Engage Cuba, a coalition of businesses lobbying Congress to lift the travel and trade embargo, said the restored flights should prompt Congress to take action.

“I think many Americans will be surprised to learn that even with daily U.S. commercial flights to our island neighbor, you still cannot travel to Cuba as a tourist,” Engage Cuba President James Williams said.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) agreed. “With U.S. airlines now poised to unleash the power of American travelers and their frequent flier miles, the time has come for Congress to eliminate the archaic restrictions on U.S. travel to Cuba,” he said in a statement.