American Is Canceling 3 Daily Flights To Cuba

Filed Under: American

Over the past few months we’ve seen the major US airlines begin selling tickets for flights to Cuba, with several airlines having launched flights to Havana within the past week. It’s no surprise that so many US carriers requested rights to operate routes to Cuba, given that it’s the first time in decades that such flights are possible.

However, I also think we’re going from one extreme to the other. While there’s certainly interest among Americans in visiting Cuba, the actual demand isn’t there, at least not to fill the thousands of seats per day that are now operating between the US and Cuba.

While there was a lot of enthusiasm at first, over the last few weeks we’ve heard a lot of airline executives say that they’re in Cuba for the long run, and they don’t plan on making money flying there in the foreseeable future.

In fairness, I suspect the performance on these routes will vary significantly. For example, American may do reasonably well on flights from Miami to Havana, given that the flight covers a distance of just a couple of hundred miles, and they’re connecting big populations. On the other end of the spectrum, I can’t imagine how much money Alaska will lose on their daily Los Angeles to Havana flight.

American already announced capacity cuts to Cuba

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how American is already cutting capacity to Cuba. As I explained, as of February 16, 2017, American is downgrading their nonstop flights from Miami to Cienfuegos and Camagüey from mainline planes to American Eagle planes, operated by Republic Airways. Specifically, the flights will go from being operated by A319 aircraft, to being operated by Embraer 175 aircraft. That means these markets are going from 128 seats per day to 76 seats per day, which represents a ~40% reduction in capacity.

But that’s not the only capacity reduction we’ll see…


American is canceling three flights to Cuba

Also as of February 16, 2017, American will be cutting three frequencies to Cuba. Specifically, American will be reducing their frequencies from twice daily to once daily on flights to Holguín, Santa Clara, and Varadero.

Not only that, but the existing daily flight will be downgraded as well, from a 737-800 to an A319. This represents a reduction in capacity from 160 seats to 128 seats, meaning the overall capacity in the markets is being reduced by 60%.

None of this comes as a surprise, in my opinion, and I have to wonder what airlines were thinking when they planned these flights.


Havana capacity cuts will be more complicated

There was a lengthy application process for airlines to get permission to fly to Cuba. The routes to Cuban airports other than Havana were uncontested, meaning that airlines can adjust capacity and cancel routes at will.

Havana is more complicated, as the rights to operate flights there required a review process by the DOT. Airlines requested more routes to Havana than were available, meaning that with the application process airlines had to make certain promises (how often they’ll fly, when they’ll start service, how much capacity they’ll offer, etc.).

Airlines can’t simply cancel flights to Havana. If they do, the DOT can take the rights away from an airline and award them to another airline. In practice many airlines probably should cancel routes (or at least frequencies) in spite of that, but chances are they won’t, given the level of pride some airlines have. They’d rather operate a route at a loss than give another airline the right to operate it (probably also at a loss).

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Bottom line

Expect these capacity cuts to continue. ‘Nuff said.

  1. As I said of those routes/capacities at the time they were awarded: “plane crazy”.

    Here is an article from freelance reporter Michael Totten on what you still have a chance to see if you venture outside the Potemkin tourist resorts. He had to sneak into the country, pretending to be a mere tourist, since the government doesn’t want unsupervised journalists reporting on the real Cuba.

    “The Last Communist City

    A visit to the dystopian Havana that tourists never see”

  2. The only people can fill out those planes are the cubans living in Miami, but American Airlines is not making any commercials/ads on locals channels, specially in spanish.
    Besides, I know a lot of cuban americans that will not visit the Island until the Cuban government stop asking for a cuban passport to those who are now americans. In case you don’t know, a cuban born that now is a US Citizenship (cuban americans), they can’t travel with a US Passport, they need to get a cuban passport ($430) and that passport you have to renew it every two year for an additional fee ($175 or so), after two renewals you have to get a new passport (another $430).

  3. Or maybe the PEOTUS is also influencing, directly or indirectly, this decision of airlines to cutback flight service to Cuba.

  4. Meantime in Europe the volume of people visiting Cuba increases and airlines up capacity ( skyteam being the largest with up to 3 daily from Amsterdam and Paris , air europa from Madrid and Alitalia adding flights )

    It’s a hard if not impossible sell for AA UA etc to sell Cuba for people outside the USA.

    Why on earth transit the USA when one needs an ESTA or visa and has to collect bags and clear immigration when there are more convenient flights

    All we need do is to apply for a tourist card

    Friends who have visited have had a wonderful time

    Hopefully I’ll be there soon

  5. Wait… there are no throngs of US citizens clamoring to fly from Miami to Holguín, Santa Clara, and Varadero, Cuba? Shocking!

    Just when it seemed like the airlines were getting their shit together… nope, they are all still idiots.

  6. As one of the commenters has said above, there are good reasons why demand is not there from Cuban Americans. It might also be said that it won’t be there from Cuban Cubans, for a variety of economic and political reasons.

    Plus in any case, I suspect the Cuban American demand may already be satisfied. It is easily forgotten in all the coverage of these new flights and routes that in fact flights have been going to and from Cuba for some years now, very regularly. When I was in Havana last year, on the day we left to come back to Grand Cayman (incidentally a common existing entry point for people from the US), there were SIX American Airlines flights between Miami and Havana on that day alone (among others) – all charters presumably largely carrying Cuban Americans to see family etc.

    The other thing to note is that it isn’t just a demand problem. Outside the well known resorts, the country still does not have anywhere near the infrastructure that it would need – even in (and perhaps especially in, given its attractions) Havana. Hotel stock is very low, the standard is poor etc etc.

  7. “It might also be said that it won’t be there from Cuban Cubans, for a variety of economic and political reasons”

    That’s for sure. With the exception of high members of the Communist Party, the “maximum wage” in Cuba (not a typo, it’s a maximum wage) is $20 a month. Paid not in dollars of course, but in non-convertible Cuban Pesos. So yeah, Fidel and Raul’s children might well want to take their grandchildren to Disneyworld. But 99% of the Cuban population couldn’t afford a one way ticket even if they saved up for their entire lifetime. 😉

  8. I was once interested in visiting Havana, but I read reports of public displays of self-affection by members of the male population – on beaches, other open areas of Havana, and movie theaters.

    If that is the case then those are social problems I don’t want to encounter while on vacation.


  9. As a person involved in the Heath care system in the island, I have seen , there has been a dramatic increase in the number of Americans and cuban Americans seeking Medical care in Cuba
    With changes looming in the North, we welcome more North Americans seeking the very society oriented medical care in Cuba

  10. Word is out that Cuba sucks. It’s probably worth a daytrip from Miami just to check it off your list and see for your own eyes how crappy the country is but that’s about it. Could also be used as a place to decompress off the grid but not totally since the internet is mostly worthless but basic stuff gets through.

  11. I just got back today from 12 days in Cuba, flying in and out of Havana. One word to describe Havana International Airport: nightmare! Arriving, I spent (normally its 2-3!) FOUR hours waiting for luggage along with many other flyers, almost getting arrested after much frustration. Leaving, we waited TWO hours in the plane while watching ONE man take the previous planes luggage out and replace it with ours. The Aero Mexico plane captain said over the intercom that the airport was a “disaster”! It is comical they are contracting with all of these airlines when they have absolutely no capacity nor apparent plan to accomodate. Beware, don’t fly into Havana with checked baggage!

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