The frequencies became available late in 2017 when Alaska Airlines, Fort Lauderdale-based ultra LCC Spirit Airlines and Denver-based ULCC Frontier Airlines withdrew from the Cuban market, freeing up four daily frequencies to Havana. The 2016 US-Cuba bilateral air services agreement provides up to 20 frequencies between the US and the Cuban capital.
Both Dallas/Fort Worth-based American Airlines and Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines are requesting an additional flight from Miami, Florida. New York-based JetBlue Airways is seeking a flight from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Chicago-based United Airlines and its partner Mesa seek to expand its Saturday-only Houston-Havana flight to a daily, year-round operation.
When the US and Cuba restored air service, US carriers rushed into the Cuban market, even though there was little data to indicated the strength of demand. Since then, several carriers have exited the market, while others have scaled back operations.
The Trump administration tightened regulations on US citizens’ access to Cuba in June 2017, eliminating the “people-to-people” visits permitted by the Obama administration. Alaska, for example, cited this rule change as stymieing demand for its Los Angeles flight. But demand for flights between South Florida and Havana remains strong.
American, which operates four daily flights between the cities, is asking for a fifth, saying it is best positioned to serve the market, as its hub in Miami provides connections throughout the country. Delta, which is also asking for a flight from Miami, does not have the advantage of a hub, American said. Flights from Fort Lauderdale operate with low load factors, indicating demand from that airport is weak, American said.
Houston cannot support a daily Havana flight, American said. Delta argued that American has four daily Miami-Havana frequencies, and awarding it a fifth would be anti-competitive. But it agreed with American’s assessment that Miami is the most logical market for additional Havana service, given the large Cuban-American population in the region.
JetBlue said American has not utilized its existing Havana frequencies to their full potential. Instead of adding a fifth flight, American should upgauge to larger Airbus A321s or Boeing 757s on the route. Additionally, American’s Charlotte, North Carolina-Havana flight is “struggling,” and JetBlue said the carrier should shift that frequency to Miami if it needs a fifth daily flight.
Applications for the newly available frequencies were due Dec. 8, and comments on the filings were due in late December. However, when Delta terminated its six weekly New York JFK-Havana frequencies, DOT allowed carriers until Jan. 10, 2018 to answer and reply to regulatory filings seeking the Havana flights.
(Madhu Unnikrishnan - ATWOnline News)