At least a dozen commercial airlines have filed for the right to fly to the once forbidden island.
As expected, the U.S. deal with Cuba to start commercial flights between the countries sparked a surge of interest, with at least a dozen airlines asking the Department of Transportation yesterday for rights to begin flying to Havana and other cities on the island. The filings, some of which ran hundreds of pages long, indicate that service could begin as early as July. But they also revealed that airlines aren’t exactly expecting a huge surge of business at first; until the trade embargo is lifted and tourism can resume, airlines said that they expect most of their passengers to have personal or family connections to Cuba. Others will have to show that that they fall into the 12 categories of travelers who are allowed to visit the once forbidden destination.
The airlines include the expected contenders—American, Delta, United, JetBlue, and Southwest, which all propose to fly dozens of flights a week from their main hubs in the U.S. There were also some surprises: Alaska Airlines threw its hat into the ring, but asked for just one route, from Los Angeles to Havana, which it wants to serve with two daily round-trips. Denver budget airline Frontier is also asking for rights, along with Spirit, Silver Airways, and Sun Country, plus two airlines that don’t currently offer regularly scheduled service in the U.S.: Eastern, a startup flying under the venerable brand name that currently operates Cuba charters, and Dynamic Airways, a jet charter operator based in North Carolina that flies widebody Boeing 767 jets.
The deal with Cuba allows 110 daily flights between the countries, but just 20 of them to Havana—although that is by far most sought-after market, according to the filings. Ten daily flights will be permitted to each of nine other international airports in Cuba.
It’s not clear when and how airlines will vet their passengers to see if they are indeed entitled to simply buy a ticket for a hop to Havana. A source at one airline told Condé Nast Traveler that’s one of the many practical issues that needs to be sorted out—and it will probably appear as a form during the reservation process, much like that checklist of hazardous materials you have to acknowledge before you proceed with the purchase.
Barbara Peterson, Conde Nast Traveler
Barbara Peterson is a writer specializing in aviation, travel and consumer issues and is author of Blue Streak: Inside JetBlue, the Upstart that Rocked an Industry.