American Is Already Cutting Capacity 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 many of the flights launching in the coming weeks. 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 will soon be 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.

While American has the most extensive planned route network to Cuba, it looks like they’re already trying to scale back. Per a DOT filing on Tuesday, American is planning on 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, on or around February 16, 2017. That means these markets are going from 128 seats per day to 76 seats per day, which represents a ~40% reduction in capacity.


Bottom line

I suspect this is only the beginning of capacity cuts to Cuba, at least in the next few years. In this instance downgrading flights isn’t an issue, since routes to destinations other than Havana weren’t contested. However, it’ll be much more complicated for airlines to reduce capacity to/from Havana, given how competitive those routes were, and the application process they went through. I suspect more airlines will eventually come to their senses on over-capacity to Cuba.

  1. I think one of the main reasons is, that these routes are not open to tourists (a fact which many European travel agents didn’t even know until recently).

  2. I’d think that even the Cubans flying to the island would not like these changes. Previously they brought large amounts of supplies with them to Cuba (flat screen TVs, car tires, toys were all brought to relatives from the US. Charter flights knew this and charged by the weight you were bringing. With mainline US carriers limiting the weight of luggage and surcharges for more all bags and overweight luggage, they didn’t learn from the carriers who knew how to make money on these flights.

  3. @Stefan,
    What do you mean these routes are not open to tourists? I presume you mean European tourists connecting in the US. Why wouldn’t they be able to take one of these flights? I though Cuba entry restrictions applied to US citizens but not US airlines.

  4. I flew on a 737 from Miami to Holguin last month. There were 13 of us. Since I have elite status with American, I was upgraded to Business… where I was alone.

    I’m guessing that route is also due for a cutback. (But flying American is so much nicer than having to take a charter!)

  5. All is unfolding as I foresaw. LOL

    “I suspect this is only the beginning of capacity cuts to Cuba”

    Yep. When the routes were awarded, and I saw the ridiculous overcapacity, some of them to towns most of us had never heard of, not to mention the dreadful lack of infrastructure to accommodate that many arrivals, my comment here was that this was “plane madness”.

    Right now they’re downgrading A319s to ERJ 175s. Once they find they can’t begin to fill even those, the next thing will be to use Dash 8 Turboprops. Eventually they will be petitioning to cut the daily flights back to once a week. 😉

  6. And you always have to worry that the government will seize the planes. They have done it before.

  7. Shithole Cuba. Wait until Trump and the Republicans (aka old time Miami Cuban expats) try to scale back the diplomatic openings. That will be the end of these flights. Go from Canada, Mexico or Jamaica….

  8. The word is out that Cuba sucks. Tell your friends so they don’t waste their time and money. Think of all the people who travel just to post selfies and then find out it takes over 20 min to upload one photo on the 56.6k government regulated internet.

  9. The problem is that many cubans still don’t know/trust to buy their tickets online to go to Cuba, why? well for many years they have been buying airlines tickets trough agencies on their charter flights without any seat selection (a chaos at the gate), and know is is hard to believe that is so simple because they are not use to.

    Airlines should waive tickets fees for Cuba over the phone, at least for the first 6 months, spend some money on Ad/Commercials on local Spanish Tv channels. I live in Miami and I can tell you a lot of people still don’t know that you can buy a ticket online and is cheaper that those charter flights.

    Remember “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” but I think is possible in this case 😉

  10. I was at MIA flying to Cancun last week and all the gates around us were flying to Cuba. There are airlines flying to Cuba that you haven’t even mentioned such as air Aruba was flying straight from Miami to Cuba and the flight was packed so they must be offering some pretty fares.
    When we returned from Cancun almost all the flights coming in we’re from Cuba we were in immigration waiting for a passport to be checked in all we could hear was Cubans screaming Oye tú!
    Clearly the demand for Cuba is in Miami. But if say that’s about it !!!

  11. American can fly one more flight to Cuba. Put Barack “Huessein” O’Racist, his wife Moochelle O’Racist, Elon Musk O’Communist and all the Silicon Valley, NYT, Uber, AirBNB, Bernie Sanders socialist, communist pigs from America on the flight, one way and let them stay there….right, Rauuul?

  12. @Lucky — I confess to some curiosity here. Perhaps I missed something, but what does Melissa’s comment have to do with American Airlines reducing its capacity on flights to and from Cuba? And if it has nothing to do with the topic at hand, how did this comment pass moderation and, more importantly, why is it allowed to remain?

  13. Cuba is primarily a all-inclusive vacation destination. Airlines will only make money selling vacation packages. Here’s a tip… book with Air Canada or WestJet vacations via Toronto and save BIG $$$.

    The beaches in Cuba are beautiful especially in Cayo Coco.

  14. @Tom – The restrictions apply to everyone, not just US citizens. The irony is that OFAC will not actually issue licenses to non-US entities to conduct business citing lack of jurisdiction, but they do assert the same jurisdiction to issue prohibitions.

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