U.S. carriers appear set for a dogfight over newly opened flight rights to Havana, but their interest in other Cuban destinations appears to be lukewarm.
Airlines had until the close of business on Wednesday to apply to the U.S. Department of Transportation for the U.S.-Cuba flight rights. That comes after a February agreementpaved the way for the first regularly scheduled, non-charter passenger airline flights between the nations in five decades. The pact gives U.S. airlines access to 110 daily flights to Cuba.
But only 20 of those will be allowed to go to Havana, Cuba’s capital and most high-profile destination. And those routes are in high demand.
American Airlines alone has requested 14 daily flights to Havana plus two additional weekend-only flights. That’s more than any other carrier. Close behind was JetBlue, which proposed 12. Southwest had proposed nine. Delta and small regional carrier Silver Airways each requested the equivalent of five daily round-trip flights to Havana.
Alaska Airlines, which was one of the first to go public with its Cuba plans, proposed two daily round-trip flights between Havana and Los Angeles. Spirit hadn’t yet revealed its plans, though it was expected to request flights to Havana, too.
One surprisingly robust bid for Havana flights came from Denver-based low-cost carrier Frontier, which is seeking rights to fly three daily round-trip flights to Havana from Miami and one from Denver.
All that indicated a dogfight for Havana flight routes. Combined, U.S. carriers had collectively applied for the equivalent of at least 51 daily flights to Havana. Only 20 are on the table.
Beyond the 20 allocated for Havana, there will be 10 daily flights allowed on routes to each of Cuba’s nine other international airports.
Nearly all of the big carriers applying for Havana flights also sought rights on routes to some of those cities, as well. United and Alaska were among the exceptions, seeking only rights to fly to Havana.
United proposed most of its Havana service would come from its hub at Newark Liberty, where it hopes to operate one daily round-trip flight to Havana with a second daily flight on Saturdays. United would fly only one flight a week to Havana from three other cities, proposing one round trip each Saturday from Chicago O’Hare, Houston Bush Intercontinental and Washington Dulles.
“This is a historic moment for our company, our employees and, most importantly, our customers,” United CEO Oscar Munoz said in a statement. “We want to be the first choice for passengers traveling between the U.S. and Cuba. We’re able to offer customers the best access, convenience and connections to and from Havana through our industry-leading global route network, and we’re excited to compete for this important service.”
Before U.S. airlines can begin their flights, their route authority applications must win approval by the DOT. The airlines then must reach service agreements with Cuban aviation authorities. It’s thought that flights under the agreement could begin by this fall.