US Airlines Submit Responses On Cuba Flight Applications

March 15, 2016

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US airlines hoping to get permission to operate the limited number of scheduled flights available to Cuba have submitted regulatory papers in response to rivals' applications laying out their arguments for consumer travel to the Caribbean island.

The United States and Cuba signed an agreement a month ago to restore commercial air service for the first time in decades. Under the agreement, 20 daily round-trip flights will be allowed to Havana, but 13 US carriers have requested at least 52 flights per day.

Airlines submitted responses to rivals' applications by the Monday deadline set by the US Transportation Department for travel to the capital of Havana.

The submissions come just before a trip to Cuba next week by President Barack Obama, the first by a US president in nearly 90 years.

FARES, CONVENIENCE

The arguments that emerged from the airlines contrasted low airfares and the convenience.

American Airlines said nearly half of the entire Cuban-American population lives near its Miami hub, from which it applied for 10 daily flights to Havana. It said this gives it an advantage because a not-yet-lifted ban on tourism to Cuba means traffic must come from specific groups, such as people visiting family on the island.

"The frequencies proposed by JetBlue have no relation to demand," said American in its submission, claiming its rival to the Caribbean operated half-empty charters from nearby Fort Lauderdale to Havana.

"There is no possible justification for one legacy carrier to have 50 percent of available frequencies for use on one route," JetBlue said. "American thrives, for example, in offering service in markets where it dominates with high fares and disappointing service."

Southwest, in turn, argued for Florida-Cuba service, saying it was the true low-fare leader, reducing average one-way prices by USD$41.46 when entering legacy markets, compared with fares falling USD$28.91 when JetBlue entered.

And United, whose application focused on daily Newark flights, questioned the need for extensive Florida schedules altogether.

"Why would you disproportionately allocate frequencies to Florida, when (unlimited charter flights there) can pick up the slack?" said Steve Morrissey, United's regulatory and policy vice president, in an interview.

(Reuters)