US airlines file in droves to serve Cuba

Proposed flights exceed allowable limits

All of the major U.S. air carriers and several regional carriers filed applications with the U.S. Department of Transportation on Mar. 2, seeking permission to begin daily service to the island nation of Cuba but the total proposed supply far exceeds the limits enumerated in an agreement with the Cuban government.

The flag of Cuba
The agreement signed by the two countries on Feb. 16 provides for the resumption of scheduled commercial air service between the two nations but includes limits. It allows designated U.S. carriers to operate a total of 20 daily round-trip flights between the U.S. and Havana’s José Martí International Airport (HAV) and 10 daily round-trip flights to nine other Cuban cities with international airports.

Mar. 2 was the deadline for interested carriers to file the necessary paperwork and it appears the interest is almost universal. However, the applications filed by both major and regional carriers make it clear that some culling will have to be done and make it appear likely that few, if any, carriers will be granted exactly what they sought.

Dallas-headquartered American Airlines (NYSE:AAL), which has the largest Latin American network of the three major U.S. airlines, is seeking permission for 10 daily flights from Miami International Airport (MIA), one per day from Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT), one per day from Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport (DFW) and one per week from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and one per week from Chicago’s O’Hare International (ORD).

Atlanta-headquartered Delta Air Lines (NYSE:DAL) is seeking permission to begin daily flights to from four U.S. gateways: New York’s John F. Kennedy International (JFK), Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport (ATL), Miami International (MIA) and Orlando International (MCO).

Chicago-based United Airlines (NYSE:UAL) filed its formal application, seeking permission to operate 11 round-trip flights per week with daily service from Newark’s Liberty Airport (EWR), an additional flight on Saturdays, and Saturday-only flights from Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH), Washington’s Dulles International (IAD) and ORD.

Not to be outdone, regional carriers have thrown their hats into the ring.

Seattle-headquartered Alaska Airlines (NYSE:ALK) filed for permission to begin operating two daily nonstop flights from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to HAV.

JetBlue (NASDAQ:JBLU) requested four daily flights from Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL), two each from Tampa Bay International (TPA), MCO, and JFK and one each from Boston’s Logan International Airport (BOS) and EWR.

Southwest Airlines (NYSE:LUV) requested the OK to begin daily nonstop from the carrier's three busiest airports in Florida: FLL, TPA and MCO.

Those proposals appear to exceed the agreement’s cap by at least 24 flights per day and by an even higher margin on certain days of the week. The DOT has said that it “will consider which proposal will offer and maintain the best service to the travelling and shipping public” in making its selections. Answers to the applications are due Mar. 14 and replies to those answers are due Mar. 21.

The DOT has said it “intends to reach a final decision as expeditiously as possible.” Service to Cuba is expected to resume this year.

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