MIAMI— One of the more intriguing bits of news to come out of route filings this past weekend is that Delta Air Lines has placed Atlanta-Havana on its schedule. The service is filed to operate on Saturdays between 2 April 2016 and 27 August 2016 with a Boeing 737-800. There are no seats for sale on the route because current economic regulations prohibit so. But Delta is putting its flag in the ground anyway. Or at least it appears that way.
Some have speculated that this move may be related to charter operations like many other airlines offer. And Atlanta is currently one of the permitted gateways for such flights. But no other airline publishes charter flights into the public timetables in this manner. Plus, the flight numbers for Delta’s charter operations typically are 8800-8999, not the 648/649 as these new flights are filed.
@WandrMe As stated in the article, no inventory has been published/opened. Perhaps this is for MLT Vacations, DL’s in-house tour operator?
— Henry Harteveldt (@hharteveldt) October 18, 2015
The filing came just over two weeks after the end of the last round of negotiations regarding resumption of direct commercial air service between the two countries. No deal was struck during that session but some officials appear confident, at least anonymously, that an accord can be reached before the end of the year. Arguably it will be easier to sell tickets immediately if the schedule is already loaded in the system but the extra day or so to get a schedule filed should not materially affect any carrier’s ability to enter the market once the rules are agreed upon.
There is also something of a history with Delta filing routes speculatively without approval to operate them. As recently as last year the carrier was selling tickets to multiple new destinations from Dallas Love Field, despite not having secured gate space to operate those flights. Ultimately the carrier lost out on the gate space to Virgin America and operations at Love Field have been on life support, with uncertain access to gates and law suits galore.
And so the question remains: What is Delta doing at Havana? Does the company have some special insight on when it believes normalized operations will resume or is this just a bit of playing with the schedules and signaling to competitors. Either way, there’s still no regular commercial traffic flying between the countries and that will limit operations in many cases. But the US airlines are jockeying for position and this seems to be part of those moves.