Department of Transportation Grants New Rights to Havana to Five U.S. Airlines

by Barbara Peterson
Department of Transportation Grants New Rights to Havana to Five U.S. Airlines

Photo: Felix Lipov/

The U.S. Transportation Department has tentatively awarded five U.S. airlines currently serving Cuba new flights to Havana, filling a gap that opened after several other carriers dropped out of the market.

The move will increase service to Cuba from several cities, including Boston, which will get its first nonstop flight to Havana with a new weekly service proposed by JetBlue.  Houston will get daily nonstops via United, which currently operates one flight a week from its Texas hub to the Cuban capital.

DOT also gave several airlines new flights from south Florida to Havana, where demand is the strongest, given the size of the Cuban-American population in the region.

But DOT’s latest action is a reminder that the market for air service to the island nation, opened with high hopes in 2016, hasn’t exactly lived up to expectations.

When the U.S. and Cuba re-established diplomatic relations in 2015, the push to restore direct flights between the former foes was a high priority.  The DOT doled out rights to airlines to a number of cities in Cuba, with flights to Havana – by far the most promising of the island’s gateways – limited to 20 a day.  (Cuba’s national airline, Cubana, has not expressed interest in gaining reciprocal rights.) Prior to the move, U.S. visitors to Cuba traveled via charter flights.

All Havana slots were parceled out by the summer of 2016 to eight U.S. airlines, but since then, several of them decamped, citing weak demand and the deteriorating diplomatic relations between the countries (although U.S. travelers can still go if they qualify under one of the 12 approved categories for visitors.)  Among the changes: Frontier ended daily round-trips between Miami and Havana; Spirit Airlines cut its twice-daily flights between Fort Lauderdale and Havana, and Alaska dropped LA-Havana flights, the only direct connection from the U.S. west coast. 

In fact, Alaska’s exit was a factor in DOT’s decision to grant United daily service out of Houston, which will give the western U.S. greater access to Cuba, the agency said in its ruling. In its service proposal, United said that it and its regional partner Mesa Airlines will share flights Sunday through Friday from Houston, with a combination of 154-seat 737-800 planes and Mesa’s 76-seat Embraer 175 aircraft, depending on demand. United already operates 737 flights each Saturday.

Among the other changes: 

American Airlines and Delta Air Lines will each get an additional daily flight from Miami.

Southwest can add a daily flight from Fort Lauderdale.

JetBlue will get an added Sunday-through-Friday flight from Fort Lauderdale and a Saturday flight from Boston.

TMR Recommendations
Top Stories
Southwest Airlines is Expanding its Hawaii Flights

Service from Sacramento, Oakland and San Jose will begin in January, along with new inter-island flights.

Air Italy Partners With Finnair and El Al

The partnership makes new destinations available to Air Italy customers departing from central and southern Italy.

Flights Resume at Hong Kong Airport After Two Days of Stops and Starts

Peaceful protestors will still be allowed at the airport, but they will be limited to two designated areas near the exits.

U.S. Updates Travel Policies for Service Animals

The DOT issued a final statement on service animal enforcement policies, addressing concerns such as species limitations, containment, advance notice, and check-in requirements.

Protests Shut Down Hong Kong Airport for Second Straight Day

Hundreds of flights at the world’s seventh busiest airport have been canceled and travelers are being told to postpone non-essential travel from Hong Kong.

Rome Bans Tourists from Sitting on Spanish Steps

Officials say the move is designed to help preserve the UNESCO heritage site.

News Briefs
Tip of the Day

As travel advisors, we have to be curious. Curiosity leads to impactful connections that pave our road to success. - Jenn Lee, VP of Sales and Marketing, Travel Planners International

Daily Top List

U.S. Airports with Shortest Security Wait Times

1. Salt Lake City International

2. Washington Dulles International

3. Boston Logan International

4. Minneapolis-St. Paul International

5. Charlotte Douglas International

Source: TMR

TMR Outlooks