Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Alaska latest to pull out of Cuba as US ends ‘people-to-people’ trips

Alaska Airlines has become the latest US carrier to give up on the Cuba market, announcing it will end its daily Los Angeles-Havana service on Jan. 22, 2018.

US President Donald Trump has not scrapped the US-Cuba air services pact reached by his predecessor, Barack Obama, but his administration has eliminated “people-to-people” travel—which allowed individuals to travel to Cuba on approved trips. The policy change was announced in June as part of a broader roll back by Trump of Obama’s Cuba opening, and the disallowance of people-to-people travel was formally put in place last week.

“About 80% of Alaska’s flyers to Havana visited under a US allowance for individual ‘people-to-people’ educational travel,” Seattle-based Alaska said in a statement. “Changes to US policy last week eliminated that allowance. Given the changes in Cuba travel policies, the airline will redeploy these resources to other markets the airline serves where demand continues to be strong.”

Alaska will end its Los Angeles-Havana route just over a year after it started the service.

Nine US airlines launched flights to Cuba in the second half of 2016 and early 2017 after Obama eased longstanding tensions with Cuba and agreed to a new air services accord restarting scheduled commercial flights between the US and Cuba for the first time in over 50 years. But Alaska will become the fourth of those nine airlines to pull out of the market, following Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based carriers Silver Airways and Spirit Airlines and Denver-based Frontier Airlines.

Minneapolis/St. Paul-based Sun Country Airlines also was granted permission by the US Department of Transportation (DOT) to fly to Cuba, but has told DOT it is relinquishing those rights and will not enter the market.

Other US carriers, such as Dallas/Fort Worth-based American Airlines and Dallas-based Southwest Airlines, have trimmed Cuba capacity. Southwest said there was “not a clear path to sustainability” in the market when it reduced Cuba flying over the summer.

Alaska VP-network planning John Kirby told Seattle’s KING5 television that the airline saw “a precipitous drop off” in demand on the Los Angeles-Havana route in recent weeks, adding that the Trump administration’s “decision on re-regulation” cemented Alaska’s decision to end the service. “We knew this was a real risk going in,” Kirby said. “We knew it was a very fluid environment … When traffic is embargoed for over 50 years, there’s not a lot of data to go with.” 

(Aaron Karp - ATWOnline News)

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