Scheduled Air Service from the U.S. to Cuba: It Is Going to be Expensive & Bidding Will Be Intense

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cuba battle for slots
Havana.

Scheduled Service Between the U.S. & Cuba

Currently there is very limited air service between the U.S. and Cuba.  About a dozen charter flights operate, but that is it. Fortunately everything is about to change. Today the U.S. & Cuban governments announced an agreement to resume scheduled air service between the countries. Charter services will remain in tact as well. While that sounds good on the surface, don’t expect cheap fares.

As part of the agreement announced today, there will be 20 daily flights allowed to Havana and 10 daily flights to each of the other nine airports in Cuba. This will open up the market quite a lot, but there will still be far more demand than supply, especially in the beginning.

While American citizens are not allowed to go to Cuba for tourism, there are a number of legitimate ways to visit and dare I say just about everyone should qualify for one. I had to go to another country to make my way to Cuba, but fairly soon you should be able to go on the web and purchase your tickets. That low barrier to entry will bring a lot of people into the market.

A Battle for Slots

U.S.A. Today has a good article detailing the likely battle that will heat up for these slots. The Department of Transportation will decide who gets the slots, but it may ugly. Look what happened between Delta and American for that Tokyo Haneda slot? Expect similar public maneuvering.

Then there is the question of how the USDOT will decide who gets the slots. JetBlue and American are obvious choices due to their large amount of flights in the region, but the government normally decides based on the greater public good. If a ton of airlines are all promising to operate similar flights on similar routes with similar service, then who wins?

How Will This Affect Cuba?

It is hard to say how this news will affect tourism in Cuba. There are already a lot of flights to/from Europe and tourism isn’t well established but it is established. I think the small number of slots will be helpful, because everyone seems to want to go to Cuba and adding more could overwhelm their infrastructure. Thankfully Havana has a fairly nice airport and one that seems to be built to handle the added capacity.

I think the real issues will come when relations normalize even more. Some people will be hesitant to go until it is legal to visit for touristic purposes. Ultimately I think we will see more flight slots open up and the ban on travel completely lifted. In my opinion that will make Cuba a very different place. Overrun? Maybe or maybe not. Either way, it won’t be the same.

Conclusion

Today’s announcement regarding scheduled air service between the U.S. to Cuba is no surprise to me. This has been in the works for awhile and is just the latest move that brings us closer to fully normalized relations. I personally feel the travel ban will be lifted before President Obama leaves office, but I have no real basis for that. In the end we will see, but the days of dreaming about Cuba are in the past. It will continue to get easier and easier to go and despite my sad time there, I definitely recommend a visit.


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6 COMMENTS

  1. hmmmmm…… think I saw that Jetblue already is flying charter flights to Cuba (from Tampa, FLL, and JFK) and wouldn’t be surprised if they already are sidestepping the whole flying to US first routine. (that is, by having sub-regional flights too)

    (which reminds me of another issue to check further on sometime — how can we work-around the high taxes that come with flights to and from the US — by “island hopping”…. a topic waiting for an “original” post.)

    • Yes JetBlue and American are the two biggest charter carriers to Cuba, but those tickets aren’t publically available. These new slots will be in addition to any charters being run.

    • ps, just enjoyed your write-up from your brief journey to Havana. (and the reference that you’d done Hanoi before too!) Here’s hoping your future trips are less lonely, more eye opening and hope filled.

  2. You got the numbers wrong. It is 20 flights daily to Havana – enough to go around for the carriers who want them right now – and also 10 EACH for the other 9 airports. The slots are not going to be the same scarce resource as Haneda with only 4 at shitty times.

    • Thanks for the correction on the 10 each, since that goes against what I had read, although I definitely trust you as a source. With that said, the Haneda comparison was just to illustrate the public maneuvering by the airlines. Considering the geographical location of Havana, I would say 20 daily slots is definitely not enough to fill demand.

  3. As what I thought after going to Punta Cana and how poor and under developed that island was it would be many years that there is a tourism boom. I can only think it’s about 10-15
    Years away from even being thought of being on my bucket list . Now Aruba on the other hand exceeded all expectations.

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