The US gets to offer 20 daily flights to Havana, and 10 daily flights to each of Cuba’s 9 other international airports. There weren’t very many requests to fly to other cities, so all of those were granted as-requested back in June.
In July the DOT handed out authorities to fly to Havana.
Some airlines saw Cuba as a new Gold Rush. Southwest’s Chief Commercial Officer said “I wouldn’t call this a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but it’s pretty close.” I was highly skeptical of the commercial opportunity.
Fishing on the Malecón in Havana
Cuba is interesting to US tourists mostly as a forbidden fruit. In Argentina at least there’s a saying, “Tengo una remera del Che y no sé por qué,” or “I have a Che T-shirt and I don’t know why.”
US airlines have been thinking “lanzaron vuelos a Cuba y no sé por qué” — American eliminated 3 of 13 flights from its schedule and downgauged two others because of weak demand, and JetBlue reduced the size of aircraft planned to operate in Cuba as well.
There is almost no traffic for these flights which will originate in Cuba.
- A Cuban passport costs nearly half a year’s average wages for a state worker
- Roundtrip plane fare runs on average more than a year’s wages
- Cubans require US visas to come to the United States. This too requires fees, and an interview with the US embassy.
There’s little tourist infrastructure and the airport is one of the more expensive ones to operate at in the world. Flying to Havana makes Miami airport’s costs look like Branson, Missouri. Some flying makes sense, but the rush of US airlines into the market did not.
I predicted a shakeup in the market. And that’s what we’re seeing. Frontier has decided not to serve Cuba, and Silver Airways which was flying basically everywhere but Havana will end all service to Cuba effective April 22.
As more airlines pull out, reduce frequency, or number of seats to Cuba that will help the remaining players maintain their flights. And the major US airlines are positioned to absorb losses from a modest number of flights serving the nation’s capital, since Havana slots are a scarce resource they won’t want to give up.
The nation is turning out not to be the new airline gold rush that was predicted by some, for reasons that were fairly obvious from the start.