HAVANA, Aug. 7th Southwest and American are among those fighting for an extra Cuba route Delta said it will stop flying in a few weeks.
JetBlue Airways is the other airline asking the U.S. Department of Transportation for the extra route. Delta Air Lines, Inc. (NYSE: DAL) informed the DoT that it will terminate its Saturday service to Havana, Cuba from New York (JFK) on Sept. 1.
Since then, the three airlines have each been making their case for why they should take the extra Cuba slot. In regard to the two local airlines, Southwest wants to service the Cuban capital from Tampa while American looks to add to its Havana-Miami route.
“Miami has been and remains the most underserved U.S. gateway to Havana,” an American Airlines spokesperson said in a statement. “American’s proposed service would offer the most seats to passengers, create the most connections, and do the most to enhance competition.”
Southwest did not respond to a request for comment.
The DoT allows U.S. carriers to operate 20 daily combination or all-cargo scheduled round-trip frequencies between the U.S. and Havana as part of the terms of the Memorandum of Understanding the U.S. and Cuba signed in February 2016.
Currently, those 20 routes are all filled up. So, when an extra route becomes available like it has in this case, U.S. airlines are eager to petition the DoT for extra Cuba service.
Here are the details of the applications of American Airlines Group, Inc. (NASDAQ: AAL) and Southwest Airlines Co. (NYSE: LUV), according to regulatory filings.
The Fort Worth airline wants to add a Saturday route from Miami to Havana and back. The route would start no later than Dec. 22 and operate on a 160-seat Boeing 737-800 aircraft.
American argued Miami is perfect for an additional Cuba route, as the area is home to half of the country’s Cuban-American population. Currently, American offers five daily flights between Miami and Havana and a daily service between Charlotte and Havana, according to a July filing.
“Delta’s decision to end its JFK-HAV service only reinforces the absence of demand for additional U.S.-Havana capacity at gateways other than MIA,” American said in its application.
Southwest wants to operate the additional Saturday service between Tampa and Havana. The Dallas-based airline would start flying the route Dec. 1 on either a 143-seat 737-700 or a 175-seat 737-800 aircraft.
The extra route would bolster its Tampa-Havana offering, as Southwest currently operates one daily route between the two destinations. It also operates a thrice daily route between Fort Lauderdale and Havana.
Southwest argues the DoT giving it the extra route would be best for public interest, citing the fact that it usually offers lower prices than its competitors. The airline said it’s averaged 133 passengers per flight on its Tampa-Havana route.
“Tampa is home to a sizeable Cuban-American population of more than 123,500 residents, and Tampa and Havana share strong family, business, and educational ties,” Southwest said in its application.
Each airlines submitted additional filings Friday in support of their own applications. In American’s reply to Southwest, it noted, “based on every measure of passenger demand for Havana service, Miami is underserved while Tampa is not.”
In Southwest’s reply, it pushes back against American saying it had a higher load factor in its Miami-Havana routes than Southwest’s Tampa-Havana routes. Southwest said load factor is not an accurate representation of passenger demand because it penalizes larger aircraft that carry more seats.
It’s unclear when the DoT will decide whether Southwest, American or JetBlue will nab the extra Cuba route.