US Airlines Vie For Limited Routes To Cuba

March 2, 2016

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Major US airlines are seeking regulatory approval to start flying specific routes to Cuba, ramping up competition over a limited number of opportunities.

US and Cuban officials signed an arrangement two weeks ago restoring commercial air service between the countries for the first time in decades. US carriers had until March 2 to submit route applications to the US Transportation Department.

The arrangement allows 20 round-trip flights per day from the United States to Havana and 10 per day to nine other airports in Cuba.

But proposals by airlines appear to have exceeded the cap to Havana by at least 19 flights per day, with requests even higher for certain days of the week.

American Airlines, which has the widest Latin America network of its peers, asked for 10 daily flights to Havana from its Miami hub, one per day from its hubs in Charlotte and Dallas/Fort Worth and one per week from Los Angeles and Chicago.

JetBlue Airways, a rival for Caribbean travel, said it requested four daily flights to Havana from Fort Lauderdale, two from Tampa, Orlando and New York and one from Boston and Newark.

Southwest Airlines, United and Delta have also made extensive route requests. American, JetBlue and Southwest also petitioned to serve Cuban cities aside from Havana.

"Our application is based on where the traffic is today," American's Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Howard Kass said in an interview, referring to high demand by Cuban-Americans for the airline's existing charter flights to the island.

The Republican majority in Congress has defied US President Barack Obama's call to rescind a long-standing trade embargo, which includes a ban on general tourism to Cuba. Obama has used his executive authority to relax some travel restrictions, however.

US visitors must meet at least one of 12 criteria, such as seeing family in Cuba or taking part in educational tours or journalistic activity.