US Airlines Battle Over Havana

The filings are in and, not surprisingly, US airlines have chosen to be very aggressive in seeking authorities to operate flights to Havana later this year. The new bilateral treaty allows for 20 daily flights from the US to Havana by US carriers and the total application count so far stands at 52 from 19 different US gateways; Spirit Airlines is not yet included in the tally and is expected to apply. Not everyone will get all the slots they want, obviously; it will be interesting to see how the DoT allocates the opportunities.

There are several cities with similar, overlapping applications. JetBlue and Southwest Airlines each applied for two daily flights at Tampa while JetBlue and United Airlines are each seeing daily service at Newark (UA 8x weekly, but close enough). Does the DoT only award one of the airlines, ensuring more cities see service (better for consumers) while allowing each to be served by only one airline (worse for consumers)?

All the Havana slots (weekly frequencies) requested by US airlines so far
All the Havana slots (weekly frequencies) requested by US airlines so far

And what of the reincarnated Eastern Airlines? The company does not provide any scheduled service today, though it runs frequent charter flights to Cuba and elsewhere. Can this be the opportunity the company needs to begin scheduled service or will the DoT hold off on awarding the slots based on lack of proven operations as a commercial operator?

The collection of Havana routes applied for by US carriers so far
Map generated by the Great Circle Mapper - copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

Silver Airways is another interesting player, seeking to quickly establish a broad network of flights on its SAAB 340 turboprop aircraft between Florida and all 10 available Cuban destinations. It is seeking to serve Havana from five different points plus Ft. Lauderdale to each of the other nine cities, though five of those would not be daily service. Arguably the breadth of service is valuable to US customers but it is unlikely the carrier gets the 5x daily slots at Havana it is seeking and once that is diminished can the other routes also succeed? Given that it is going to use the smallest planes proposed “wasting” the Havana slot on such seems a bad idea, but without some Havana access can Silver establish sufficient market penetration?

Based almost entirely on me just making stuff up here’s one way I could see the Havana allocations happening:

A guess I'm making at how the US DoT will allocate access to Havana landing slots
A guess I’m making at how the US DoT will allocate access to Havana landing slots (weekly frequencies)

None of the less than daily service would be granted, shutting seven cities out. American and JetBlue take the lead in operations (5x daily each) while Delta and Southwest get 3x daily. United, Silver, Frontier and Alaska Airlines get 1x daily each. It keeps some diversity of gateways and competition at three of those airports. Assuming Spirit applies at Ft. Lauderdale I could see Southwest shut out there with Spirit getting the 1x daily allocation instead. I could also see Alaska getting shut out as connecting service from Los Angeles through all the other gateways, while less convenient, could be viable and allow for more competition elsewhere across the flow.

All of the non-Havana service will be approved; there is no contention over the slots in those cases. But Havana is going to be interesting.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. This just seems to reinforce to me how little the current AA team seems to think of their NYC operations. At some point they are going to have to figure out what to do between JFK and PHL and CLT

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