Last updated: 10:30 AM ET, Tue March 15 2016

American Airlines Tells DOT Why It Deserves More Havana Slots

Airlines & Airports | American Airlines | Josh Lew | March 15, 2016

American Airlines Tells DOT Why It Deserves More Havana Slots

PHOTO: Havana at dawn. As domestic carriers line up to provide service to the island nation, American is leading the charge. (Photo by David Cogswell)

The battle for the limited number of slots for flights from the United States to Havana is heating up. American Airlines has applied for more flights than any of its competitors. On Monday, it filed additional documents with the DOT that explained why it should get a lion’s share of the flights into Cuba’s capital.

American wants 10 of the 20 daily slots for Havana, and it plans to fill those slots with flights from Miami. This seems like a major request compared to what other airlines are asking for. However, American claims that it's plan is logical.

The most experience and the best location

The carrier cited its vast experience with charter flights to Cuba as one of the main reasons why it is best prepared to serve this new commercial market. Also, since most of the demand for Cuba flights will be in Miami, currently one of AA’s hubs, it feels like it is in the best position to meet the demand. 

This is why it is asking for half the daily slots for Havana. In the most recent documents filed with the DOT, American explained its position: “The success of the Administration’s objective of promoting U.S.-Cuba engagement depends on the allocated frequencies being concentrated where demand and traffic currently exist, and no airline has proposed an allocation more tailored to demand and traffic than American.”  

American backed up this claim with data that showed that nearly 3,000 charter flights to Cuba took off from Miami in 2015.

READ MORE: Charter Services You Can Take to Cuba Right Now

The low-cost argument

Southwest is one of the airlines that is arguing against American’s claims. The low-cost carrier claims that it will provide a cheaper alternative to American by flying out of Fort Lauderdale instead of nearby Miami.

American suggests that while both airports are in South Florida, Miami is the more convenient option. However, Southwest, which is asking for six daily flights to Havana from Fort Lauderdale, says it will bring better value to fliers. In its latest DOT filing, Southwest states that “more than any other airline in this case, Southwest will successfully develop the new Havana markets, operate at high load factors, and bring the greatest air travel value to the U.S. consumer.”

READ MORE: Airlines Officially Apply for Cuba Routes

An extension of the LCC versus legacy rivalry

If you look at the big picture, the argument for Havana slots is a specific example of the general rivalry between legacy carriers and budget airlines. The DOT will have to decide if Americans will be best served by flights from the most-central location (American Airlines) or flights that will offer lower fares to fliers (Southwest).

Perhaps the fairest option would be to divide the Havana slots evenly between airlines and let the market decide which ones offer the best value and most convenience for passengers. However, it is unclear how airlines' lobbying efforts will affect the DOT’s final decision.

While Havana flights are being fought over, demand is significantly lighter for the nine other Cuban airports that are also opening up. These slots might be a kind of consolation prize for airlines that don’t get the Havana flights.

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