U.S. Airlines Submit Applications For Cuba Routes!

7 major U.S. airlines have submitted their applications for commercial routes to 7 destinations in Cuba! Find out which airlines and what routes they have applied for!

As I previously wrote about, last month the U.S. authorized up to 110 daily commercial flights to Cuba from the U.S. Under the agreement, U.S. airlines had 15 days to submit their applications for which routes to Cuba they wanted to service. As of yesterday, we now know which airlines submitted applications to operate commercial routes to Cuba, which routes they are applying to service and at what frequency. It is important to keep in mind that these routes are simply route requests and it remains to be seen how many of these will be approved.

Here is the list of U.S. airlines that applied for commercial routes to Cuba with links to their respective press releases on the matter:

  1. Alaska Airlines
  2. American Airlines
  3. Delta Air Lines
  4. Frontier Airlines
  5. JetBlue Airways
  6. Southwest Airlines
  7. United Airlines

U.S. airlines applied to service 7 destinations in Cuba, including:

  1. Havana
  2. Cienfuegos
  3. Camaguey
  4. Santiago de Cuba
  5. Holguin
  6. Santa Clara
  7. Varadero

Here is the breakdown by airline of which routes the U.S. airlines applied for as well as the frequency they requested:

Alaska Airlines

  • Los Angeles (LAX) to Havana (HAV) – 2x daily

My Take:  I really do not understand this route request. While American is the only other airline to apply for service from Los Angeles, I just do not see this being a profitable route. It seems to me that this is more or less Alaska’s way of trying to remain relevant while slowly expanding their route network. I understand Alaska’s contention that Los Angeles has the highest Cuban population in the west, but I still cannot fathom that being large enough to make 2x daily service maintainable (read: profitable). Since Alaska has only made this one request though, I would expect that at least a 1x daily flight is approved for them.

American Airlines

  • Charlotte (CLT) to Havana (HAV) – 1x daily
  • Chicago (ORD) to Havana (HAV) – 1x weekly
  • Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) to Havana (HAV) – 1x daily
  • Los Angeles (LAX) to Havana (HAV) – 1x weekly
  • Miami (MIA) to Havana (HAV) – 10x daily
  • Miami (MIA) to Camaguey (CMW) – 1x daily
  • Miami (MIA) to Cienfuegos (CFG) – 1x daily
  • Miami (MIA) to Holguin (HOG) – 2x daily
  • Miami (MIA) to Santa Clara (SNU) – 2x daily
  • Miami (MIA) to Varadero (VRA) – 2x daily

My Take:  American focuses hard on the Latin American market and is perfectly positioned with a hub in Miami to really be the big winner here. Although I do think 10x daily service to Havana is a bit of overkill given that only 20 daily flights to Havana will be allowed, it makes sense given the HUGE Cuban population in the Miami area. American is also the only airline on the list that already offers charter service to Cuba. That means they already know where their demand is going to be strongest. This is going to be a huge advantage for making routes to Cuba profitable.

American’s request for only 1x weekly service from Chicago and Los Angeles also makes sense to me as they clearly recognize demand from the Midwest and West simply is not going to be there.  I would imagine a large number of these requests are approved.

Delta Air Lines

  • Atlanta (ATL) to Havana (HAV) – 1x daily
  • Miami (MIA) to Havana (HAV) – 2x daily
  • New York (JFK) to Havana (HAV) – 1x daily
  • Orlando (MCO) to Havana (HAV) – 1x daily

My Take:  Delta’s request are a bit interesting to me given that most every other airline’s applications contained requested for routes from their hubs. This makes sense since you can funnel in passengers to your hub(s) and then take them direct to Cuba. Delta has taken a different approach though requesting service out of two non-hubs – Orlando and Miami. On their face however these two routes make perfect sense given the large Cuban population in Florida. I think Delta is being quite reasonable in their application and are simply testing the market waters before diving in full scale like American.

Frontier Airlines

  • Chicago (ORD) to Varadero (VRA) – 1x weekly
  • Denver (DEN) to Havana (HAV) – 1x daily
  • Miami (MIA) to Havana (HAV) – 3x daily
  • Miami (MIA) to Camaguey (CMW) – 4x weekly
  • Miami (MIA) to Santa Clara (SNU) – 3x weekly
  • Miami (MIA) to Santiago de Cuba (SCU) – 1x daily
  • Philadelphia (PHL) to Varadero (VRA) – 1x weekly

My Take:  Frontier was a bit of a surprise to me given they traditionally are a more a low cost carrier. While that does fit the Cuban market in my opinion, the request for a daily route from Denver is borderline shocking to me. From my research, I could find nothing to suggest there was even a small Cuban population in Denver. I understand that Denver is a hub for Frontier, but flying West to fly South makes very little sense to me. I also find the application for weekly service to Varadero from Chicago and Philadelphia to be interesting as based on the applications, it just does not seem like the demand is there. I would imagine that these flights go out half empty more often than not.

JetBlue Airways

  • Boston (BOS) to Havana (HAV) – 1x daily
  • Fort Lauderdale (FLL) to Camaguey (CMW) – 1x daily
  • Fort Lauderdale (FLL) to Havana (HAV) – 4x daily
  • Fort Lauderdale (FLL) to Holguin (HOG) – 1x daily
  • Fort Lauderdale (FLL) to Santa Clara (SNU) – 1x daily
  • New York (JFK) to Havana (HAV) – 2x daily
  • Newark (EWR) to Havana (HAV) – 1x daily
  • Orlando (MCO) to Havana (HAV) – 2x daily
  • Tampa (TPA) to Havana (HAV) – 1x daily

My Take:  JetBlue went a little overboard with their application in my opinion. Though with that said it is simply an application and I think it is clear that JetBlue realizes that only a fraction of these routes and frequencies will be approved. The Florida flights make sense to me given the high Cuban population in Florida. The New York City (JFK/EWR) flights somewhat make sense to me since I am sure there will be some demand out of these markets, but the Boston route is a head scratcher for me. There is not a large Cuban population in the New England area, so I am not sure if this is just JetBlue wanting service from one of their hubs or if this is a tester flight to see if flights from the Northeast are profitable.

Southwest Airlines

  • Fort Lauderdale (FLL) to Havana (HAV) – 6x daily
  • Fort Lauderdale (FLL) to Varadero (VRA) – 1x daily
  • Fort Lauderdale (FLL) to Santa Clara (SNU) – 1x daily
  • Orlando (MCO) to Havana (HAV) – 1x daily
  • Tampa (TPA) to Havana (HAV) – 2x daily

My Take:  Southwest (along with American) are the clear winners with their choices in my opinion. The Cuban population in South Florida is HUGE and Southwest is hitting pretty much every major market in Florida where there is a strong Cuban population. The short hops on these flights will also likely make Southwest the front runner for inexpensive travel to Cuba.

United Airlines

  • Chicago (ORD) to Havana (HAV) – 1x weekly
  • Houston (IAH) to Havana (HAV) – 1x weekly
  • Newark (EWR) to Havana (HAV) – 1x daily
  • Washington (IAD) to Havana (HAV) – 1x weekly

My Take:  United seems to be reigning in their expectations for Cuban travel with their application, though I do not really see any of these particular routes being extremely profitable for them given that there is not a huge Cuban population in any of these 4 cities. This application seems to me to be an application so United can say they service Cuba, but waiting for the other airlines to jump in to see if the routes are actually profitable and viable long term.

Final Thoughts

It is important to remember that these are just requested routes and frequencies and it remains to be seen which routes and frequencies will be approved. While I am personally pretty excited about the prospect of commercial flights from the US to Cuba, the pure number of routes and frequencies that have been applied for kind of surprises me. I understand the routes from Florida (especially Miami) given the large Cuban population in Florida, but I really do not understand some of the other applications and frequencies. Traffic will likely be strong out of the gate, but I cannot imagine that that level of traffic maintains after a few months. In any case, it will be interesting to see which routes and frequencies get approved. Stay tuned!

Which routes do you think will ultimately be approved?

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