Surprising Absolutely No Readers of This Blog, 2 US Airlines Pull Out of Cuba

The US gets to offer 20 daily flights to Havana, and 10 daily flights to each of Cuba’s 9 other international airports. There weren’t very many requests to fly to other cities, so all of those were granted as-requested back in June.

In July the DOT handed out authorities to fly to Havana.

Some airlines saw Cuba as a new Gold Rush. Southwest’s Chief Commercial Officer said “I wouldn’t call this a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but it’s pretty close.” I was highly skeptical of the commercial opportunity.

Fishing on the Malecón in Havana

Cuba is interesting to US tourists mostly as a forbidden fruit. In Argentina at least there’s a saying, “Tengo una remera del Che y no sé por qué,” or “I have a Che T-shirt and I don’t know why.”

US airlines have been thinking “lanzaron vuelos a Cuba y no sé por qué” — American eliminated 3 of 13 flights from its schedule and downgauged two others because of weak demand, and JetBlue reduced the size of aircraft planned to operate in Cuba as well.

There is almost no traffic for these flights which will originate in Cuba.

  • A Cuban passport costs nearly half a year’s average wages for a state worker

  • Roundtrip plane fare runs on average more than a year’s wages

  • Cubans require US visas to come to the United States. This too requires fees, and an interview with the US embassy.

There’s little tourist infrastructure and the airport is one of the more expensive ones to operate at in the world. Flying to Havana makes Miami airport’s costs look like Branson, Missouri. Some flying makes sense, but the rush of US airlines into the market did not.

I predicted a shakeup in the market. And that’s what we’re seeing. Frontier has decided not to serve Cuba, and Silver Airways which was flying basically everywhere but Havana will end all service to Cuba effective April 22.

As more airlines pull out, reduce frequency, or number of seats to Cuba that will help the remaining players maintain their flights. And the major US airlines are positioned to absorb losses from a modest number of flights serving the nation’s capital, since Havana slots are a scarce resource they won’t want to give up.

The nation is turning out not to be the new airline gold rush that was predicted by some, for reasons that were fairly obvious from the start.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Are there any actual numbers regarding load factors and total passengers on these Cuba flights?

    I also thought that most of these flights would be losers, and I actually think demand might DECLINE a little from here given the poor reviews Cuba travel generally gets. Once it’s no longer forbidden fruit, isn’t it just a vacation destination equivalent to, say, Haiti? Aka, a place that no “regular” tourist heads to.

    That said, I tend to think the public has a false impression regarding the actual number of pure tourists who head overseas. From decades of flying, I actually don’t see that many “tourists” on international flights to non-beach destinations. It always seems that most of the passengers are travelling for specific reasons: business, seeing family and friends, etc. Because there are a large number of Cuban Americans, I think there will be reasonable demand for Cuba flights — at least from the places that Cuban Americans live. That’s mostly South Florida. There are 1.4 million Cuban Americans there. The next largest concentration is the NYC area, where there are only about 160,000. When factoring in overall population and geography, that tells me that South Florida can support a good number of Cuba flights. NYC can support a couple. Maybe other major hubs can support a daily flight to Havana. Everything else is probably toast.

  2. Why are American business ‘leaders’ so Stupid? Is it because we live in this new era of alternative facts? No one needs an accountant, scientist, or doctor. Just make stuff up post it to Facebook and eventually even our thought leaders will believe it.

  3. Gary, I love ya, but you have to stop saying the Che thing in literally every story about Cuba

  4. Well, I confess — while I didn’t think it would be as rosy as the airlines thought (and I did think there was definitely too many seats flying to far too many destinations) — I didn’t think it would THIS bad!

  5. American people need to “step up” & make some trips to Cuba. It’s not “fair” to not visit them and vice versa, since they are responsible for the booming of Miami as someone said before.

  6. US citizens still can not travel independently to Cuba. You must be associated with a US government sponsored authorized program. This is done though most authorized tour operators, but expensive. A one week basic land tour to Havana and one other city would be around $2500 plus not including airfare and visas.

  7. I suppose to you, David and many upper educated(read: indoctrinated)younger others
    MEMORY is “a thing of Convenience”. Cubans of integrity, honor and self-respect willNever return to that uniquely grand Island that was betrayed, and
    desecrated until the
    mambises that were permitted to Take over are:
    Gone.God bless America, and the loyal,but betrayed Cuban families that came made Her even greater.Triste triste triste… the betrayal out of a jaded Washington in those Days…the Lives LOST; the endured suffering – to this very Day. We never learn.
    Money trumps Principle.
    Then there’s fear& self interest.May “be” coming ‘Home’ to roost.The Creator ‘works’, in strange Ways.

  8. @Larry, don’t be such a p*ssy. I went to Cuba via Mexico City over 3 years ago. These days, one can just say “support of the Cuban people” or whatever the stupid list says. No one cares if you go or not. It’s not worth the time of the authorities to care. Stop worrying so much.

  9. @Larry, technically there are legalities to that effect, but nobody has been prosecuted for years on this. I went as an independent traveler staying at airbnb places and making all my own arrangements within Cuba. Nobody took the slightest interest in asking whether I fit one of the 12 permitted categories (I had a case to make that I did, but again, nobody asked). I didn’t even bother to ask the Cuban authorities not to stamp my passport. I agree with you, though, that many people might be hesitant to go independently, and the prices for those packaged tours are not cheap.

    My own thought was that while there was no issue with getting in and out, the logistics within the country would discourage a lot of people. Little wifi service, no credit cards or ATM I could use, long lines to change cash. Those things will probably change, as will the range of lodging options, but not instantly and not to the extent that US tourism will multiply in the short term.

    Also, like me, there are probably plenty of others who do want to visit once out of curiosity, but are unlikely to make it a favorite place for return visits, at least until the landscape for tourism changes.

  10. There’s still an irrational embargo in place against Cuba. Lift the embargo and demand for travel to Cuba will increase because it will become much easier for Americans who at this time can’t even use their credit cards there and must pay penalties when exchanging currency..

  11. It looks like there aren’t as many people giddy for some third-world culture than originally expected.

  12. No stampede of visitors to an underdeveloped, communist sh!thole of a country? Huh.

    I would have thought that the lunatic left would have wanted to visit just to see what they are voting for.

  13. @usajerry…third world experiences are fantastic. The people are genuine and friendly. And the inside of a Marriott or Hilton makes it seem like you could be anywhere. Don’t be afraid of authentic experiences. 17 years ago i was in cuba (my government doesn’t restrict where I can travel). Spent a week at the beach in varadero and stayed with a family in havana that rented out a room in their apartment for five days. Havana was a great city to explore.

  14. If the delusional fool in the White House had a lick of sense, he’d lift the ridiculous embarge that only closes the Cuban market to American goods that once dominated there. It leaves Cuba no option but to turn to our economic and political enemies like China, Venezuela, and his pals in the Kremlin. (Dollars to donuts Putin’s got the goods on him.) But he and his minions are stuck in a mental time warp. They believe that we should and can treat the world like it is still 1960. The inability to cope with the modern world and the belief that we can actually turn the clock back to a bygone era is something they have in common with Islamic fundamentalists.

  15. Of course, it is all Trump’s fault. Delusional. It’s going to be a long 8 years for some of you. MAGA.

  16. I was born in Santiago de Cuba in 1958, and my family left in 1962 for the US. After years of trying to convince my 88yo father to go to Cuba (“not till Fidel is dead!”) he finally said yes, and we went to Santiago in December (one week after Fidel died). We were 6 and it was not cheap! We stayed in Central Santiago, at the Hotel Casa Granda, and had a private van, driver, and guide. Unless one has a reason for going, I would recommend against it as there is nothing to see or do or eat or buy. The communists destroyed everything except the music, which stirred my soul. For me and my family, it was a “Roots” trip so my father could show and tell us about our heritage. The 50’s cars are used only as tourist taxis; the other cars are rust buckets. Horse and buggy is still a major means of transportation. The buildings are in shambles. Our family homes now house 4-5 families who share the kitchen. The fascination Americans have for the island is because of the travelogues that center around the tourist area of Old Havana.

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