U.S. approves Delta, United bids to delay restart of Havana flights

Delta Air Lines restarting service to Cuba in spring 2023

HAVANA, Oct 19 (Reuters)  The U.S. Transportation Department (USDOT) on Tuesday said it would allow Delta Air Lines (DAL.N) and United Airlines (UAL.O) to temporarily delay resuming flights to Cuba as they work to address logistical issues.

United last month said it has been working for months to relaunch Havana service but faces hurdles, while Delta also said it was facing issues in reestablishing service.

USDOT said it would require United to resume service no later than Dec. 1 and Delta no later than March 26.

United previously flew seven flights weekly to Havana from its Houston and Newark hubs. It said in September it needs to “undertake significant work including re-negotiating multiple contracts with service providers that have lapsed, building out necessary infrastructure in Terminal 3 at Havana’s airport where United is being relocated.”

Delta has the right to fly 21 weekly flights between the United States and Cuba, made up of 14 for Miami and 7 for Atlanta flights. Delta suspended the flights during the COVID-19 pandemic and initially plans to resume Miami flights.

Delta said it is working to relaunch flights but “needs additional time to ensure reintroduction of safe, efficient, and sustainable service to Havana.”

Delta expects it could take up to six months to re-establish the necessary IT infrastructure to handle passenger needs in Havana and faces “ongoing challenges in securing visas for personnel to travel to Cuba” for both pre and post-launch staffing.

Last month the Biden administration agreed to expand U.S. flights to Havana, adding 13 weekly American Airlines (AAL.O) departures from Miami and a weekly JetBlue Airways (JBLU.O) departure from Fort Lauderdale, on top of the typical six daily American Airlines flights and three JetBlue flights weekdays to Havana from the Florida airports.

In June, USDOT lifted restrictions on flights to Cuba imposed under former President Donald Trump, including ending a prohibition on U.S. airline flights to smaller Cuban airports.

In July, American Airlines received permission to resume service to some smaller Cuban airports.