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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.
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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