Skift Take

Cuba was once the darling of the Caribbean for U.S. tourists and businesses alike. Popular flights to Cuba contributed to the growth of our favorite legacy airlines. This new progressive strategy by the U.S., while nascent, holds great promise for the aviation market and beyond.

Now that U.S. airlines are free to add scheduled services to Cuba, we look at which are ready to jump into this new market.

While new policies introduced today still don’t allow for trips to Cuba as a tourism destination, the opportunities for U.S. airlines in today’s announcement are clear: both travel agents and airlines can now provide authorized travel and air carrier services, without the need for a specific license.

An opening up of scheduled services gives airlines like American Airlines, Delta, and JetBlue, which already operate chartered flights to the island nation an opportunity to convert those charters to scheduled services, but they won’t be without competition.

Delta Airlines tells us it is evaluating the opportunities this new policy opens up. A Spokesperson said: “We look forward to expanding service into Cuba as more opportunities become available.”

A United spokesperson told us: “As we review the changes to the regulatory requirements, we applaud the Obama administration’s move to continue reducing barriers to travel for the benefit of our customers.”

A spokesperson at JetBlue told Skift today: “We are interested in providing service to Cuba from multiple U.S. cities, as soon as legally permitted.  Our existing charter program to and from Cuba has given us valuable experience in the market and a strong foundation for future expansion.”

Other established low-cost carriers could jump in, providing discount fares which might attract a number of qualified travelers. Skift has previously received statements from key players on their views of opportunities in this burgeoning market.

Southwest Airlines replied: “Cuba is an intriguing possibility we’re studying for the future. We have many opportunities now and we’re moving toward making those opportunities book able options for our Customers.”

Spirit Airlines would also be ideally positioned to jump-in on demand for its “bare fares” to and from Cuba. A spokesperson previously told us it would watch the evolving diplomatic relations before determining how they could affect the airline, and today added: “There are no concrete plans, as it is still too early in the process. We’ll continue to monitor the situation and if we can provide our ultra-low fares to Cuba and still be profitable, then it is certainly something we will consider.”

Opportunities to add flights to Cuba to meet new demand aren’t limited to U.S. carriers  (traditional or low-cost) alone. Both Air Canada and WestJet already offer flights to Havana, and U.S. travelers who qualify could connect through their services. We reached out to WestJet and Air Canada for comment. A WestJet spokesperson indicated that the airline expects “no change in any plans with respect to Cuba.” Air Canada has not yet replied.

Iberia, which is a Oneworld partner of American Airlines, and has scheduled flights to Miami which include onward connections might also benefit. The airline had previously pulled Havana from its schedule, finding flights to the island unprofitable, but an Iberia spokesperson, responding to questions on potential new services to Havana from Miami told us the company constantly reviews its routes policies and would reintroduce any flights if they proved financially advantageous.

For the new Eastern Airlines in Miami too, currently flying as a charter operator, this could  be an ideal opportunity to revive its brand legacy by reestablishing its historic service to Havana. However, an airline spokesperson has not yet replied to our queries on the matter.

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Photo credit: An Aeroflot plane at Havana's José Martí International Airport. DomodedovoSpotters / Wikimedia Commons

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