American Airlines trims Cuba schedule, cites weak demand

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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.

 

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