US airlines began offering scheduled service to Cuba in the second half of 2016. 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. I took advantage of that opportunity, and visited Havana a few months after it became possible for Americans to visit. I had an… interesting time. I’m happy to have seen Havana, but don’t need to return anytime soon.
From day one I suggested that airlines were being overzealous in terms of the number of routes they intended to operate to Cuba. There was an extensive bidding process for flights to/from Havana, so it seems like many airlines were focused on keeping Cuba out of the hands of their competitors, rather than approaching capacity rationally.
Since these routes were started, we’ve seen constant capacity cuts to Cuba. Some airlines have canceled flights to Cuba altogether, while others have reduced frequencies and downgraded planes. We’ve seen capacity cuts in one form or another from American, JetBlue, Silver Airways, Frontier, Spirit, and Southwest.
The Cuba situation has only gotten worse since new restrictions were placed on travel to Cuba in the second half of last year, about a year after Cuba initially “opened up” to Americans.
It looks like we’re now seeing the latest route victim. One of only two airlines to fly nonstop between New York JFK and Havana is Delta, as they operate a once weekly flight. It looks like Delta will operate their last once weekly flight between New York JFK and Havana on September 1, 2018. The route is operated on Saturdays using an Airbus A319 with the following schedule:
DL448 New York to Havana departing 8:15AM arriving 12:10PM
DL620 Havana to New York departing 1:10PM arriving 4:09PM
Amazingly JetBlue continues to offer daily flights between New York and Havana, and United continues to operate daily flights between Newark and Havana. Delta continues to operate flights to Havana out of Atlanta and Miami. Atlanta makes sense as it’s Delta’s biggest hub, and Miami makes sense given how big the Cuban population is there (though they can’t really compete with American’s Cuba route network out of Miami).
The reason we haven’t seen more drastic capacity cuts from airlines to/from Cuba is because of the initial bidding process required to get these routes. Airlines won bids to operate routes based on promises to operate certain types of aircraft and certain frequencies, and if they reduced those they’d have to get DOT approval, and could potentially lose the right to operate the route altogether. So while I’m sure some airlines would love to reduce frequencies and downgrade aircraft types to Cuba, that’s not happening all that much.
I’m still really surprised that we haven’t seen bigger capacity cuts to Cuba…