By John Flett
U.S. Carriers Seek to Capitalize on Additional Cuba Flights
United Airlines has requested an additional 30-day waiver from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) ahead of an Oct. 31 deadline to resume flights to Cuba. Reuters reports that the airline has been faced with challenges to relaunch the service that was suspended at the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic.
According to the news organization United has to “undertake significant work including re-negotiating multiple contracts with service providers that have lapsed, building out necessary infrastructure in Terminal 3 at Havana, Cuba’s airport where United is being relocated.” Prior to March 2020, the airline was operating a total of seven flights each week to the island from Newark, N.J. and Houston, T.X.
News of United’s extension request for Cuba flights comes during a week when the current U.S. administration agreed to increase flights between the two countries. Under the former administration of President Trump flights to Cuba were restricted after flight bans had been lifted under President Obama. At the time of the imposition of restrictions Trump administration Secretary of State Antony Blinken cited “support of the Cuban people” and “the foreign policy interests of the United States” as the rationale.
The announcement of increased services to Cuba comes in the same week as President Joe Biden’s administration confirmed Wednesday that the United States Embassy in Cuba will begin processing full immigrant visas early next year. Florida Politics quotes Ambassador Brian Nichols, the Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, saying, “Supporting the Cuban people and Cuban-American families remains a top U.S. priority.”
Visa processing for Cuban citizens was paused in September 2017 and this week’s announcement will be positive news for U.S. airlines wishing to capitalize on the significant visiting friends and relatives market (VFR).
American Airlines has been granted an additional 13 weekly departures from Miami, and JetBlue will have a weekly departure from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The flights are in addition to six daily American Airlines flights and three JetBlue flights on weekdays to Havana, Cuba from Miami and Fort Lauderdale typically operated. USDOT has determined that both airlines must commence the additional flights by the middle of December.
Reuters also reported that the lifting of a ban on flights to smaller Cuban airports had been of interest to American Airlines. According to the article, American had sought approval in July to operate flights from Miami to Santa Clara, Holguin, Matanzas/Varadero and Santiago de Cuba, in Cuba.
At the time of lodging, the request with the U.S. DOT American stated that the flights “will enhance service and access between the U.S. and these non-Havana points, after more than two years during which such service was suspended.”