Two Texas Airlines Competing for Service to Cuba

Service to Cuba
Photo: American Airlines

An agreement will be signed in Havana on Tuesday opening Cuban airport gates to more than 100 flights a day from the United States. The flights of scheduled airline service will begin sometime later this year. Two Texas-based Carriers, American Airlines and Southwest Airlines, are in the mix to compete for those slots.

With thousands of Cubans swarming across the Texas-Mexico border every month, Breitbart Texas’ Lana Shadwick reported, it’s unknown how regular airline service between the two nations will affect future Cuban emigres. Will they continue to travel to Central and South America, and then transit northward? Or, will they simply board an airliner and come directly to America.

Fort Worth-based American Airlines said in December that it’s ready to commence service as soon as allowed by the government. It has already been operating close to two dozen charter flights to the island weekly for the last 25 years.

In a December story in the Dallas Morning News, American Airline’s vice president for regulatory affairs, Howard Kass said that the world’s biggest airline has been flying from Miami, Tampa and Los Angeles to a total of five destinations in Cuba: Havana (Jose Marti International) and the smaller cities of Santa Clara, Holguin, Camagüey and Cienfuegos.

In the last year, air travel from the United States to Cuba is up by 50%. It is expected that Cuba will gradually phase-in the flights to allow for the tourist industry to accommodate the growing demand. There are reports that hotels in Havana are already booked months in advance.

The impact on Cuban immigration to the United States through air travel is unknown. Breitbart News and Breitbart Texas have provided extensive coverage of the on-going human migration surge the nation’s southern border. This immigration surge now includes Cubans.

Cubans have been flying to various destinations in Central and South America, including Ecuador, and then making their way north to the United States. Several nations have called on the U.S. to charge its Cuban immigration policy of automatically adjusting the status of Cubans once they reach American soil.

Visits from the United States to Cuba could potentially bring more than 20,000 tourists per day. But, there is one hitch: the U.S. government has not yet normalized travel restrictions, and because of that, tourism is still prohibited under current U.S. law.

Travel is allowed for family visits, educational or religious activities, journalism, or humanitarian purposes, as well as government business. But the airlines are bidding and planning on the slots for a time when travel will be normalized.

In December of 2014, President Obama eased travel restrictions to Cuba, and subsequently, American visitors to Cuba have surged by more than 50 percent. There was, and remains strong criticism from both Republicans and some Democrats, that he was aiding the repression of the Cuban people by the government of Raul Castro.

Representing the United States in Havana for the signing ceremony will be U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs Charles Rivkin. The bilateral agreement will authorize U.S. flights to ten airports dotted across the nation.

Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly has said that his airline would be adding up to 50 additional destinations by 2017. The airlines’ Brad Hawkins said that they will be bidding on destinations in Cuba. With the acquisition of Air Tran by Southwest, which concluded in early 2015, they added their first international destinations to Mexico and the Caribbean.

For a comparison of size to Texas cities, Havana, the Cuban capitol, has a population of 2.1 million people, close to that of San Antonio. In the other markets now handling charter flights from the U.S., Camaguey with 305,000 is parallel to Corpus Christi, Holguin with 280,000 lines up with Lubbock, Santa Clara, with 200,000 is on par with Tyler and Cienfuegos at 150,000 is about the size of Abilene.

Rob Milford is a reporter for Breitbart Texas. You can follow him on Twitter @milford_rob.