Today is the deadline for airlines to apply for rights to regular routes to and from Cuba, and they're looking for slices of a limited pie. The agreement last month between the U.S. and Cuba allows for 110 daily roundtrips, but only 20 of those are allotted to Havana, the prized destination.
Alaska Airlines was the first to reveal its request, and it's all Havana. They're asking for two of the 20 slots, and would use them to link Havana to Los Angeles.
American Airlines, which flies many of the existing charter flights, is looking to fly ten times a day to Havana from Miami, one a day from Dallas/Fort Worth and Charlotte, and weekly flights from Chicago and Los Angeles. American also asked for routes from Miami to five other cities, Santa Clara, Holguin, Varadero, Camaguey and Cienfuegos.
Others in the race include Delta, which wants Havana routes from Atlanta, JFK, Miami and Orlando, and United, which has its eyes on routes from Houston, Chicago, Washington/Dulles and Newark.
Smaller airlines are in the mix, too; Southwest wants daily flights from Fort Lauderdale to Varadero and Santa Clara, as well as six a day to Havana from Fort Lauderdale, two from Tampa and one from Orlando. Silver Airways, a Florida-based carrier, says it would like to serve all ten Cuban cities. JetBlue, also a leader in the Cuba charter business, has not made its request public yet.
Obviously, they will not all get what they ask for, but are positioning themselves for future.
It's also reasonable to assume that the new routes, which could start in the fall after early-summer approval, will not all fly that soon. Since there are still restrictions on U.S. travelers to Cuba, including a specific ban on tourism per se. Travelers must meet one of 12 categories for travel, including journalism, people-to-people activities, cultural and educational programs—and are warned not to include much in the way of beach time, etc.
Until those restrictions are gone, the market will simply not support that number of flights, especially since some of the airports serve primarily as gateways to coastal and island resorts that will not be available to U.S. travelers, at least for now.
Photo: Havana's Jose Marti Airport (Rojinegro81 / Wikimedia)