Earlier this year, the US Department of Transportation opened applications for US carriers to fly into Cuba.
According to Sabre, up to 110 scheduled daily flights are available for officially sanctioned commercial flights to Cuba’s ten airports, including 20 daily flights into Havana’s José Martí International Airport. Airlines eagerly filed applications to fly non-charter flights to Cuba. Charter air services will not end, but price competition from regularly scheduled service will become a major challenge.
Alaska, American, Frontier, Spirit, Sun Country, United, JetBlue, Southwest, and Delta are the biggest brands angling for a fixed number of routes.
American Airlines flew 1,200 charters last year to Cuba, while JetBlue also flies charters to Cuba. The government has not said whether those already operating in Cuba will have an advantage in the bidding process. To be considered, airlines must submit details of the proposed routes, such as aircraft type and a prioritized list of origin cities.
Airlines are clearly eager to serve the 77% increase in Americans arriving to Cuba in 2015, a year that saw a total of 161,000 American arrivals according to the Caribbean Tourism Organization.
BusinessWeek also highlighted some of the likely metrics for regulators, saying that “the size of a city’s Cuban-American population, along with which routes are most conducive to business travel and other commercial engagement with the island” will be prioritized. The airlines serving the cities below are likely to have a leg up in the selection process.
Sabre data from 2015 sheds some light on which cities airlines may be awarded routes. While its never apples-to-apples (Sabre’s internal data set on American travel to Cuba is significantly large), our predictions considered gateway cities for travel to similar Caribbean countries.
The data, which is pulled from an anonymized and blended (corporate/leisure) set sorted by date of booking, shows the most popular gateway cities for travel to the Caribbean. A gateway city is the last city prior to flying to a country. So rather than showing the city a traveler started from, it shows the last city a traveler transited through before arriving in the country. Since passengers from other cities generally travel through hubs, this analysis shows the hubs that the DOT would be most likely to consider for sanctioned travel to Cuba. The countries include Barbados, Bahamas, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Trinidad and Tobago. Based on the assumption of attracting a mix of leisure, family and corporate travel, each of these countries have a similar profile and demographic appeal as that of Cuba.
There are twenty daily flights in play – could the DOT match the current travel patterns to Cuba or will the government adjust these flights to match local Cuban-American populations with direct access to their families back home? There’s no easy answer but the data offers an insightful look at how many elements should be considered.
The DOT could also look at which airlines market the most flights into the Caribbean, which demonstrates deeper knowledge of the operational complexities of Cuba. An analysis of airline marketing codes shows that American, Delta, JetBlue and United are the most active commercial airlines in the selected countries.