Category Archives: Flights to Cuba

Another one: JetBlue to trim Cuba capacity as airlines adjust to market demand

Sun Sentinel

JetBlue Airways is on the verge of becoming the second major U.S. carrier in recent months to dial back capacity on its new commercial passenger routes to Cuba.

Effective May 3, the New York-based carrier will begin operating smaller planes on routes from Fort Lauderdale and other U.S. cities to four Cuban destinations: Havana, Santa Clara, Holguin and Camaguey, a spokesman confirmed this week.

The changes are a continuing sign that the airlines that rushed to serve the Communist island after the restoration of U.S-Cuban diplomatic relations may have been too ambitious with their traffic expectations.

In December, American was the first to announce it would reduce service between Miami and Holguin, Santa Clara and Varadero to one daily flight starting Feb. 16, “to remain competitive in the market.”

Since then, regional carrier Silver Airways is reportedly planning to slash flight frequencies on some of its eight Cuba routes from Fort Lauderdale, according to the industry publication Routes Online.

In an email Wednesday, Silver spokeswoman Misty Pinson told the Sun Sentinel that the carrier typically makes seasonal adjustments “to best match demand.”

“But we remain optimistic about the future growth potential in Cuba and believe that our 34-seat aircraft is the right size aircraft for this market,” she said. “And this will also continue to grow as distribution channels open.”

Silver is still slated to launch service this year to Cayo Largo, its ninth Cuban destination from Fort Lauderdale, pending receipt of TSA approval for the Cuban airport, Pinson said.

In all, the adjustments being made by JetBlue, American and Silver will result in about a 17 percent reduction in overall seats on U.S. carriers flying to Cuba, according to an analysis of flight schedule data by Airline Weekly, an industry trade publication.

Seth Kaplan, the publication’s managing partner, asserted the recent capacity cuts point to lagging consumer demand.

Kaplan said the decline could be partly attributed to confusion among Americans about what they can and can’t do in Cuba.

For example, Americans may face hurdles using U.S.-issued credit cards in Cuba due to the lack of infrastructure. In addition, many are apprehensive about possible modifications the Trump administration might make to the liberalized travel and remittance policies introduced by the Obama Administration.

Today, travel to Cuba from the United States is limited to 12 approved categories, such as educational and religious activities, family visits and humanitarian projects. A ban on leisure tourism to Cuba remains in force as part of the long-standing U.S.-imposed trade embargo against the Communist island.

“It’s becoming clear that Cuba is going to be a long-term play, not a source of instant profits for U.S. airlines,” Kaplan said. “One thing that’s interesting is that even Havana — the marquee market — might be weaker than airlines hoped.”

The lowered expectations are reflected in the use of smaller planes and fewer flight frequencies.

For flights between Fort Lauderdale and Santa Clara, Camaguey, and Holguin, JetBlue will operate 100-passenger Embraer 190 aircraft, instead of 150-seat Airbus A320s. Its Fort Lauderdale-to-Havana flights will operate with 150-passenger Airbus A320s instead of larger ones that accommodate up to 200 people.

The change in aircraft type will result in 50 fewer seats on each flight, JetBlue spokesman Philip Stewart said in an email..

JetBlue also serves Havana from Orlando and New York.

Stewart said it is “common practice to adjust schedules and fleet type, routes based on customer preferences, especially routes that are new to the network.”

Last August, JetBlue became the first U.S. airline to offer regularly scheduled flights between the U.S. and Cuba in several decades when it launched service from Fort Lauderdale to Santa Clara. In November, it began service from Fort Lauderdale to Holguin, Camaguey, and Havana.

JetBlue was among several U.S. carriers that won approval last year from the U.S. Department of Transportation and Cuban government to offer regularly service several U.S. gateways as part of the push to normalize relations.

Besides JetBlue, American and Silver, the others included Alaska, Delta, Southwest, Spirit, Silver, Frontier, Alaska, Sun Country and United.

The new slate of Cuba flights, which launched between last August and December, raised concerns among longtime Cuba travel specialists in South Florida as to whether there would be enough consumer demand to justify them.

“I think airlines sort of expected the secondary markets to take time to develop, but they scratched and clawed to be able to offer every flight they could to Havana,” Kaplan said. “It turns out they might have been too ambitious.”

More tourists for Castro, less food for Cubans

Cuba’s Surge in Tourism Keeps Food Off Residents’ Plates

The New York Times

In Viñales, a lush valley about 100 miles from Havana, cabdrivers are charging stranded foreigners $10 to sleep in the back of their taxis.

In Varadero, a popular beach town, tour groups are being rerouted to resorts two hours away, which Americans are not really supposed to be visiting. And upon arrival in Havana, tourists sometimes face five-hour delays, because the airport lacks the mobile staircases needed to disembark and the conveyor belts to process luggage.

“It’s funny, it’s like Americans are rushing to Cuba before Americans rush to Cuba,” said Tony Pandola, a tour guide here.

The sharp increase in American travel to Cuba is putting a strain on private and state businesses on the island, leading to some shortages and an abrupt rise in prices that will only steepen as more Americans take advantage of relaxed travel regulations, industry experts said.

State hotels have already increased prices by nearly one-third, as demand for lodging far exceeds Cuba’s ability to meet it.

Continue reading More tourists for Castro, less food for Cubans

American Airlines trims Cuba schedule, cites weak demand

passengers

USA Today

American Airlines is reducing capacity to Cuba, a cutback that comes just months after U.S. carriers rushed to start regular service there amid loosening travel restrictions between the nations.

American will not drop any of its recently launched routes to Cuba, but will instead drop one of the two daily flights that it currently flies between Miami and each of the Cuban cities of Holguin, Santa Clara and Varadero.

American’s schedule to Havana – which launched just this week – is not currently targeted for cutbacks. American offers four daily round-trip flights to Havana from its hub in Miami and one daily round trip from its Charlotte hub.

The reductions to the three smaller cities will hit in February, reducing American’s flight schedule to Cuba from 13 flights a day to 10.

American cited weaker-than-expected demand for the reduction, adding the decision had nothing to do with the results of the U.S. presidential election in November.

“These adjustments are part of the regular evaluation of our network,” American spokesperson Matt Miller told Air Transport World. “And the changes were loaded into our schedule the first weekend of November — before the election.”

Some airlines declined to comment on their new routes to Cuba, but Delta and Spirit each told Bloomberg News that their bookings were in line with expectations. However, Spirit spokesman Paul Berry added that carriers appear to be keeping Cuba fares as they try to fill seats.

“When fares are as low as ours, that means there’s a lot of capacity,” Berry said to Bloomberg.

When Cuba opened up to U.S. airlines earlier this year, nearly all rushed in with requests to add new service to the island — especially to Havana. Against that enthusiasm, however, some industry executives openly wondered whether demand would live up to the hype.

Without regular airline service to the island in five decades, there was little data available to carriers in trying to assess potential demand for flights to new destinations. And unlike other foreign markets, Cuba remains a unique and highly regulated place for U.S. airlines to do business.

In October, American dropped its first suggestion that Cuba flights were underperforming during a call to discuss its third-quarter earnings.

“I think everyone is struggling a little bit in terms of selling in Cuba,” Don Casey, American’s senior vice president of revenue management, said during that call. “There a lot of restrictions that are still in place that has made it difficult to sell.”

Despite those comments, American was quick to affirm its commitment to competing in Cuba.

“We’re in it for the long haul,” American CEO Doug Parker added on the same call. “This is really a new market. We’re excited to be the largest carrier there. We’re committed to Cuba and making it work.

 

Flights from Cuba pose security threat

passengers

The Post and Courrier

In pursuing his historic opening of relations with Cuba, President Barack Obama has frequently pushed legal and political boundaries. Now congressional Republicans are up in arms about another such initiative: an airline travel agreement they say exposes the United States to dangerous security gaps at Cuban airports.

Congressional committees charged with overseeing the Department of Homeland Security and Transportation Security Administration have engaged in a months-long feud with the administration over security vulnerabilities at 10 Cuban airports that have begun direct flights to the United States. The lawmakers say the lapses increase the risk of terrorists, criminals, drugs and spies entering the United States.
The security dogs that can be seen at Cuban airports are “mangy street dogs” that were fraudulently posed as trained animals, the TSA’s top official for the Caribbean, Larry Mizell, told congressional officials behind closed doors in March, according to these officials. He also told them that there are few body scanners at the Cuban airports and that those in place are Chinese-made versions for which no reliability data exists.

When direct commercial flights began in August, federal air marshals were not allowed on them by order of the Cuban government. No TSA personnel can be stationed at the Cuban airports. All of the local airport employees for the U.S. carriers are being hired, vetted and paid by the Cuban regime, lawmakers said, and the United States has not been given information that resulted from their vetting or how it was conducted.

“In an effort to secure Obama’s legacy on Cuba, they rushed to get it done without doing the proper due diligence,” said Rep. John Katko, R-N.Y., chairman of the Homeland Security Committee’s subcommittee on transportation security. “Our concern is oversight, to make sure what the agency tells us we can verify. There are still a lot of things we don’t know. What we do know is troubling.”

Two TSA officials told me that agency personnel have made several visits to each of the 10 Cuban airports that have been certified as “last points of departure” for direct flights to the United States and that the agency is confident they are safe for Americans to fly to and from. All 10 airports meet the minimum standards for security under U.S. and international law, the officials said.

But the TSA officials declined to comment on any of the vulnerabilities identified by the oversight committees, citing those details as “security sensitive information.” Several congressional officials said that when Mizell, the TSA official, originally told lawmakers and staff about the problems, no claim was made about information sensitivity. But when the committee convened open hearings on the issue, officials refused to repeat the facts in public.

The TSA officials also said the Cuban government had finally agreed to allow federal air marshals on commercial flights to and from Cuba on Sept. 26. The administration has not provided the text of that agreement to Congress because it was still being translated from Spanish to English, the officials said.

In June, a group of lawmakers tried to visit the Cuban airports to review matters for themselves, but the Cuban government denied their visas. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, the leader of the would-be delegation, told me that the administration, which he said denied repeated requests for assistance and information, was ultimately responsible for thwarting congressional oversight.

“It is my responsibility to ensure that any administration puts the safety and security of the American people above all else,” McCaul said. “Like with the Iran deal and so many other times, the Obama administration prioritizes legacy building at the expense of national security.”

Only days after the lawmakers were denied visas, NBA basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal was granted a visa to visit Cuba as part of a State Department cultural exchange program.

The congressional Republicans sounding the alarm about the Cuban airports also oppose Obama’s overall Cuba policy and doubt that thawing relations with the government of Cuban President Raúl Castro will encourage reform there. That debate likely won’t be resolved for many years, but when it comes to airport security, they certainly have a point.

“Cuba remains a state sponsor of terrorism that is allied with some of the most despicable regimes in the world, from Iran to North Korea, and I can’t comprehend how this administration has allowed commercial flights to Cuba without the proper vetting and security procedures in place at each of the Cuban airports,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., told me.

The security situation at Cuban airports is an open invitation for any bad actor who wishes to do harm to the United States to try to board a flight to the United States with whatever dangerous contraband they can carry.

If that’s the price of Obama securing his Cuba legacy, it’s not worth it.

Josh Rogin is a columnist for The Washington Post.

Rubio says administration lied about security on Cuba flights

marcorubio1

Fox News

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio is accusing the Obama administration of “lying” to Congress about the security on U.S.-Cuba commercial flights — saying officials have failed to follow through on a commitment to place federal air marshals on board those routes.

In a letter to President Obama on Monday, the Florida senator noted that at a House Homeland Security Committee hearing last week, Transportation Security Administration official Huban Gowadia confirmed there are no air marshals on board commercial flights to Cuba.

Yet at a May 17 Homeland Security subcommittee hearing, Department of Homeland Security official Seth Stodder said an air marshal agreement was being negotiated and flights would not begin without one.

“You and your administration’s lack of concern for the American people’s safety — as evidenced by allowing commercial, non-charter flights between the U.S. and Cuba to commence without the presence of federal air marshals, and lying about it to Congress — is further proof that you are putting your legacy ahead of the safety and security of the American people, including the people of Florida,” Rubio wrote.

Rubio, who is locked in a tough re-election race, said Gowadia’s revelation contradicts earlier claims by the administration that an agreement to include air marshals was finalized.

“Simply put, your administration has been caught in a bold-faced lie that has put American lives at risk,” Rubio said.

Rubio, along with New Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez, introduced legislation earlier this month — the Cuban Airport Security Act — that would stop flights to Cuba until a study was completed regarding the security measures at Cuba’s airports.

Commercial flights to Cuba began at the end of August, and Rubio called it “astonishing” that this was allowed to happen “under the false pretense that there would be federal air marshals on board.”

“You have created an opportunity for our worst fears to become reality, just as they did on September 11, 2001,” he wrote.

Rubio asked Obama when he expects the Cuban government to sign the agreement on air marshals, what the TSA is doing to mitigate security risks, and if any White House official instructed the TSA to allow flights before “appropriate security procedures” were in place.

He also requested copies of the draft federal air marshal agreement with Cuba.

In a statement to FoxNews.com, a TSA spokesman said while it does not comment on particular security arrangements, the agency is working with Cuba to ensure there is a federal air marshal presence on flights when necessary.

“Based on several years of security assessments and routine public charter air service between the United States and Cuba, TSA is confident that all commercial flights from points of origin in Cuba to the United States meet international standards and additional security measures that are required by the United States Government,” the spokesman said.

American Airlines, one of the airlines running flights to and from Cuba, objected to the assertions in Rubio’s letter.

“We don’t speak about security, but the safety of our passengers, our people, and our equipment is of the utmost importance and we do not use use airports that do not meet the highest standards of safety for scheduled or chartered flights,” a spokeswoman for American Airlines told The Miami Herald.

American Airlines discriminates against Cuban-American crew members to satisfy the Castro regime

americanairlines

Another American company violating the right of Cuban-Americans in order to obey the stupid laws of Cuba’s dictatorship.

Shame on you American Airlines!

The Miami Herald

Cuba won’t allow Cuban-Americans flight crews to stay overnight, so an airline grounded them

When American Airlines launched the first of an unprecedented 12 daily commercial flights from Miami to six cities in Cuba, the company rolled out the Cuban-American brass to mark the milestone at Miami International Airport.

At a pre-flight ceremony, the executives evoked their emotional connection to the business at hand — winning the bid to fly the largest number of commercial flights to Cuba.

“Today is historic not only for American Airlines, but also for Miami, the heart and soul of the Cuban-American community in the United States,” said Ralph Lopez, American vice president of Miami hub operations, before the Sept. 7 departure to the city of Cienfuegos on the southern coast of the island.

Fernand Fernandez, American’s vice president of global marketing, spoke of the “pride and excitement” he felt.

“This flight is not only important to our airline, to our 12,000 employees here in Miami — many of them Cuban-American — but also… this is of huge importance for Miami-Dade County, home to so many Cuban Americans like my parents.”

Behind the scenes, however, another story played out.

When doing business with Cuba, all those American Airlines employees of Cuban origin Fernandez heralded in his speech don’t have the same rights as their U.S.-born counterparts, or their Latin-American counterparts, or their counterparts born anywhere else in the world for that matter.

That first “historic” flight brought home the point.

A Cuban-born crew member arrived in Cienfuegos without a Cuban passport — required for anyone born there who left the country after 1970, even as babies — and a brouhaha ensued with Cuban authorities on the ground. The crew member was not allowed entry, much less the required overnight rest stop after a crew member flies 12 hours.

Questions were posed by AA to authorities: What happens in the future if there’s a flight with a mechanical delay and the crew that includes a Cuban American is grounded overnight? What will happen, routinely, with the two Varadero flights that require the overnight stay of the crew?

The answer: Only in the most “extenuating circumstances” would Cuba allow an exception to its separate set of archaic travel requirements for Cuban Americans. No overnights for Cuban-American crew members. Period.

Now the Dallas-based airline, which makes its schedules far from Cuban politics in Texas, had to identify Cuban-American employees and take them off Cuba flights that required an overnight stay.

“Please remember that those who are Cuban born should be removed with pay from Cuba flights until we can verify what requirements the Cuban government has for these crewmembers,” says an AA memo to managers that a source shared with me.

And I have to ask: Can you imagine in your company a staffing memo that says, “Please remember that those who are Israeli born should be removed?”

Or, please remember that those who are (fill in the blank any other place of origin) should be removed?

The Cuban government’s long arm is cherry-picking the assignments of employees of an American company. How is that for a historic development?

Sounds as outrageous as when Miami-based Carnival Corp. denied bookings to Cuban Americans on its cruises to the island because of an archaic Cuban maritime law that said Cuban Americans could not arrive by sea.

Now with commercial flights, an American company once again finds itself in the position of having to discriminate against a class of people — their employees of Cuban origin.

“No crew member born in Cuba is allowed to enter Cuba unless they meet immigration requirements,” American spokeswoman Alexis Aran Coello confirmed. “That’s a Cuban government demand. That’s not something we’re saying. We are abiding by the laws of the Cuban government.”

Cuba’s discriminatory rules also apply, of course, to the flight crews of JetBlue and Spirit, which also recently began commercial flights, and to the others that will soon follow them.

This is the price of doing business with the still-repressive and antiquated Cuban government: Giving up American ethics for a piece of the action.

Complying with the Cuban government’s discriminatory policies against Cuban Americans — spelled out in the U.S. Embassy’s website as a warning to travelers — is a choice. Airlines need to negotiate harder. Enough of an uproar from the traveling public convinced Cuba to change its maritime rule and allow Cuban Americans to travel there on cruise ships.

On the American side, strides have been made in the last 18 months since President Barack Obama announced an end to hostilities between the two countries. But the Cuban government remains stuck in anti-exile, anti-American bellicose mode despite documented evidence that a growing number of Cuban Americans strongly support President Obama’s engagement policy and the reestablishment of relations. For the first time since 1991 Florida International University began surveying Cuban Americans, a new poll shows that a majority — 54 percent — said support the lifting of the Cuban embargo.

Cuba, however, has a long way to go to show it is seriously interested in being a travel destination for all Americans.

Perhaps customer response, if not companies, might help move the needle: Saturday’s flight on American to Cienfuegos had 53 out of 120 seats empty as of this writing. It may be the slow season, but were it not for Cuba’s restrictive policies, there might not be a single seat left.

As Americans know well, discrimination is bad for business.