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U.S. DOT Clears Eight Carriers for Scheduled Flights to Havana

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U.S. DOT Clears Eight Carriers for Scheduled Flights to Havana

U.S. DOT Clears Eight Carriers for Scheduled Flights to Havana
July 07
14:23 2016

MIAMI — Earlier today, the US Department of Transportation (DOT) released its tentative decisions for the 20 new nonstop flights to be awarded between the United States and Havana for America’s airlines. While the decisions for which airlines and routes will gain service to Cuba’s capital are tentative (and “interested parties will have until July 22 to comment on or object to the DOT’s decision), in most cases these decisions are carried over to become final. The 20 flights and 11 destinations awarded tentatively by the DOT are as follow:

  • Miami
    • American Airlines (4 daily flights)
    • Delta Air Lines (1 daily flight)
    • Frontier Airlines (1 daily flight)
  • Fort Lauderdale
    • JetBlue Airways (13 flights per week [daily except Saturdays])
    • Southwest Airlines (2 daily flights)
    • Spirit Airlines (2 daily flights)
  • New York JFK
    • Delta Air Lines (1 daily flight)
    • JetBlue Airways (1 daily flight)
  • Newark
    • United Airlines (1 daily flight)
  • Los Angeles
    • Alaska Airlines (1 daily flight)
  • Charlotte
    • American Airlines (1 daily flight)
  • Atlanta
    • Delta Air Lines (1 daily flight)
  • Orlando
    • JetBlue Airways (1 daily flight)
  • Tampa
    • Southwest Airlines (1 daily flight)
  • Houston Bush
    • United Airlines (1 flight per week [Saturday only])

High level takeaways – DOT more or less gets it right

When the DOT released this decision, frankly we came away pleasantly surprised at how sound the overall decision making process was. We do have a few minor quibbles with specific decisions (which we will cover below in our specific route by route commentary), but overall the DOT did good work in terms of matching route authorities to demand.

One of our biggest pet peeves with DOT decisions on route authorities tends to be that in the name of competitive balance, the DOT will often ignore raw origin and destination (O&D) nonstop demand, thereby failing to serve the majority of customers for a particular destination effectively.

But in this case, we think the DOT struck a very good balance, with 12 flights to the Miami-Fort Lauderdale South Florida metropolis where the vast majority of Cuban-Americans live. 14 out of 20 (or 70%) of flights are to Florida, and 17 out of 20 (85%) are to Florida or New York City (the two dominant drivers of demand). The remaining destinations include the next largest O&D destination without service (Los Angeles), and two massive connecting complexes in the Southeast (Atlanta and Charlotte) that will effectively collect passengers from the remainder of the county and funnel them to Havana.

The DOT managed to do this without sacrificing competitive balance for American travelers, as eight different carriers gained service including two hybrid network low cost carriers (LCCs) in Southwest and JetBlue and two pure ultra low cost carriers (ULCCs) in Spirit and Frontier. And they did a good job of balancing the need for LCC and ULCC competition with providing strong connectivity via hubs with strong connecting complexes including Atlanta, Charlotte, Newark, Miami (for American), Fort Lauderdale (for both Southwest and JetBlue), Tampa, and Orlando.

Overall the DOT did an excellent job balancing its various priorities (and political reality) – our hope is that is uses this decision making framework moving forward as it considers subsequent route authority allocations worldwide.

City Specific Commentary


We were more or less happy with the DOT’s decision here, though frankly American should have been granted a fifth daily flight over a daily flight for Delta (which does have a frequent flyer base in Miami but doesn’t offer any connectivity) as Miami is going to be the primary US conduit for most passengers in cities without nonstop service to access Havana (as it has the highest frequency).

Fort Lauderdale

The other half of the South Florida metropolis is perhaps a bit overrepresented in the relative split in terms of frequencies (most of the Cuban American population and demand is a lot closer to Miami Int’l) but that’s the reality of the situation. We do have two minor quibbles. Firstly, the single Saturday daily flight should have come out of Spirit’s allocation of flights as opposed to those of JetBlue, as uneven weekly frequency is less concerning to Spirits ULCC customer base than JetBlue’s network one. Our second thought would have been for Southwest to be cut down to one daily frequency and that be transferred to JetBlue as the latter operates a stronger hub in Fort Lauderdale.

New York JFK & Newark

No quibbles here, three daily flights is a good amount for the second largest O&D metro area to Cuba, and Newark provides strong connectivity.

Los Angeles

LA probably needed a daily flight and we understand why the DOT picked Alaska Airlines (for purposes of increasing the number of airlines awarded) but Alaska is going to struggle to fill this plane with limited connectivity at LAX. Our sense is that American, with its stronger hub and history in Cuba would have a better chance of making LAX-Havana work.

Charlotte & Atlanta

The nation’s two mega hubs with the best geographic position to connect passengers to Havana were no-brainers.


Tampa is a major O&D destination for Havana and Southwest is a strong choice for service to Havana given that it is the largest carrier at Tampa by far with 36% market share and 84 daily departures to 34 destinations (offering decent connectivity).


In return for shifting one Fort Lauderdale departure from Southwest to JetBlue, our view is that the DOT should have granted Orlando to Southwest instead. Both carriers have a strong O&D passenger base in Orlando, but Southwest’s hub (and thus connectivity) is more than twice as large in terms of daily departures and closer to three times as large in terms of seats. On the margin, the DOT should have prioritized connectivity in both Fort Lauderdale and Orlando.


About Author

Vinay Bhaskara

Vinay Bhaskara

Senior Business Analyst, Big Airline Enthusiast, Avid Airport Connoisseur, Frequent Flyer, Globetrotter. I Miss Northwest Airlines Every Day. @TheABVinay

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  1. Scott W.
    Scott W. July 08, 12:01

    Good analysis for the most part, but wanting American Airlines to have more frequencies in South Florida just because MIA is closer (30 minutes closer) than FLL is missing the point that these total 20 flights to Havana should offer seats for Americans and not the Europeans and South Americans that AA will sell a lot of these seats to through its MIA hub.

    Cuban-American citizens should get first dibs on these seats and will drive 30 minutes to FLL for a lower fare. They should’ve taken two of AA’s and DL’s frequencies out of MIA and given them to SWA and JetBlue in FLL. American is still free to fly their 10 charters a day to Havana without converting them to (scheduled flights) in these 20 limited slots.

    That being said, I agree the DOT did a pretty fair job of allocating these limited slots.

  2. Craig Jackson
    Craig Jackson July 09, 16:09

    Vinay, I am very impressed with the overall allocations thus matching up with present market conditions of the consolidated and rationalized airport and airline sectors importantly O&D traffic flows considering Cuban American population bases to fill allocated seat capacities.

    This is very historic mindful the days of Pan Am and Havana service. I wonder of the new Eastern Air Lines with its historic brand recognition presently flying charters able to gain scheduled access at a later time upon growth to maintain connectivity? Craig J.

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