Last updated: 03:52 PM ET, Wed June 15 2016

Air Routes To Cuba: Which Carriers Won and Lost?

Airlines & Airports | Paul Thompson | June 15, 2016

Air Routes To Cuba: Which Carriers Won and Lost?

Photo by David Cogswell

Last week, the U.S. Department of Transportation approved six carriers to begin service to the island nation of Cuba for the first time in over 50 years. While six domestic carriers were approved for flights, let’s break that down, and then take a look at some notable omissions to the list.

American, Frontier, JetBlue, Silver Airways, Southwest and Sun Country are among the chosen few who received route approval to Cuban cities. Those six airlines were selected to fly to eight Cuban cities as follows:

American Airlines will fly from Miami to Holguin and Santa Clara twice daily, with 160-seat Boeing 737-800s. It’ll also fly to Matanzas twice a day with the 144-seat Airbus A319. Two other cities, Cienfuegos and Camaguey will get flights once a day with the A319. That gives American 56 weekly flights — more than anyone else. With every seat filled, that’s nearly 13,000 weekly passengers to Cuba for American.

READ MORE: Can Cuba Keep Up With US Tourism?

Frontier Airlines will fly once a day from Chicago O’Hare to Santiago de Cuba, using its Airbus A320m, which holds 180 to 188 seats, depending on configuration. O’Hare is also a hub for United Airlines, who was granted no flights in this allotment. We’ll get back to that in a minute. Frontier will also fly once a week on Saturdays from O’Hare to Matanzas. In addition, Frontier will fly from Philadelphia to the Cuban cities of Camaguey four times a week, Santa Clara three times a week and Matanzas on Saturdays.

Fort Lauderdale will be somewhat of a hub for airlines serving Cuba, with one of those airlines being JetBlue. The carrier will offer daily flights on the 162-seat A320 from Fort Lauderdale to Camaguey, Holguin and Santa Clara.

Also flying from Fort Lauderdale is Silver Airways. Who's that, you may be wondering? They fly little turbo-prop planes called Saab 340s, which hold only 34 seats, but this airline got the largest city variety out of anyone. Silver Airways will serve Camaguey five times a week, Cayo Coco three times a week, Cayo Largo Del Sur on Saturdays, Cienfuegos on Mondays and Fridays, Holguin daily, Manzanillo three times a week, Santa Clara daily, Santiago de Cuba daily and Matanzas four times a week. This gives Silver 39 flights to Cuba each week.

Southwest Airlines is a relative newcomer to international flying, but it was granted twice-daily flights from Fort Lauderdale to Matanzas, and daily flights to Santa Clara, using 143-seat Boeing 737-700. Its appointment of Varadero (Matanzas) is the closest city to Havana, and could give Southwest the selling point over the others by offering that proximity.

Finally, Sun Country Airlines was given a token presence, with flights from Minneapolis to Santa Clara on Sundays and Matanzas on Saturdays.

Overall, the six carriers will combine to fly 155 flights a week between the U.S. mainland and Cuba. Under the agreement, the six chosen carriers have to begin service to their granted cities within 90 days. The TSA will also have to review the security systems in place at each airport before flights can begin.

Why weren’t United and Delta given routes to Cuba? They’re two of the largest and most established international airlines in the world. It turns out that Delta didn’t apply to fly anywhere else but Havana, and asked for authorization to fly from Atlanta, New York JFK, Miami and Orlando. United also put all of its hopes in Havana, hoping to fly from Newark, O’Hare, Houston Bush and Washington Dulles.

READ MORE: Travel To Cuba: What’s In It For Travel Agents?

The DOT hasn’t announced who gets to fly to Havana. Up to twenty daily round tips between the U.S. and Havana could be awarded to these two plus other carriers. One would expect a very good chance of United and Delta receiving authorization to fly from their hubs in Chicago and Atlanta, respectively. 

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