This week the Obama administration’s plans to complete an agreement with Cuba that will allow scheduled commercial flights to resume this year between the United States and the island nation for the first time in more than 50 years will be formalized with a Tuesday signing ceremony.
The agreement, based on an understanding reached in December between the two governments, will allow American air carriers to offer 20 flights per day to Havana and 10 to each of the nine other Cuban cities with international airports. That is a substantial increase from the 10 to 15 charter flights currently available between the United States and Cuba. Flights would begin late this year.
While Major U.S. carriers are gearing up to bid on Cuba destinations regional carriers in the Caribbean are scrambling to get in on the potential flood of U.S. travelers ready to make the trip.
Turks and Caicos-based InterCaribbean Airways is adding additional Cuba flights with service between Providenciales, Turks and Caicos and Havana, The new nonstop flights will begin May 1.“With People to People visits from the United States, and new categories of travel for USA citizens, interCaribbean is well placed to facilitate entry to Santiago, and now to Havana, as we serve two of the most important cities of the country,” said Lyndon R. Gardiner, Chairman of interCaribbean Airways. Trevor Sadler, chief executive of InterCaribbean Airways, says “the airlines is actively working to complete our authority to serve Cuba.” InterCaribbean’s Providenciales base is “the closest point to eastern Cuba as one could hope to reach.” says Sadler. This, combined with an increased willingness from tourists to island-hop rather than remain in the same place for the duration of their vacation, makes the possibility of the lifting of restrictions on US citizens visiting Cuba an interesting one for the intra-Caribbean operator.
Dominican airline Pawa recently launched flights to Jose Marti International Airport in the Cuban capital marking the start of its first Santo Domingo-Havana route. According to a Dominican government official, “Many tourists see the Dominican Republic as a peer of Cuba in terms of tourism and recreation activities.”
Another Caribbean-based carrier that is keeping a close eye on US-Cuba talks is Antigua-headquartered LIAT. Chief executive David Evans says that the recent thawing in relations between the US and Cuba and its potential impact on airlines is “the question on everyone’s lips.” LIAT does not serve Cuba and lacks the necessary equipment to operate nonstop flights to the island at this time, but looking further into the future Evans says that “Cuba is potentially a huge market” and is “certainly somewhere that would be of great interest to us”.
The Panamanian airline Copa Airlines has been serving Cuba for years announced it will create a new route with direct flights to the tourist destination of Holguin, east of Cuba, that will depart from Panama City starting mid this year. “We are pleased to add Holguin as our third destination in Cuba, with which we expand the connection of this country to the rest of the continent and, thus, can offer greater opportunities for the development of tourism and trade,” said Pedro Heilbron, CEO of Copa Airlines. After 20 years of service to Cuba, Copa Airlines expanded its contacts with Havana to seven daily flights since 2014 and flies four times a week to the city of Santa Clara, in the center of the country.
But the introduction of U.S. commercial flights to Cuba one Caribbean carrier has concerns. Bahamasair is monitoring the ‘opening of the skies’ between the US and Cuba, its managing director acknowledging: “We are concerned about it.” This will allow a surge of Americans to travel direct to Cuba rather than transit through the Bahamas and use airlines such as Bahanmasair. Mr Woods added: “At the moment, our loads to Cuba are very good. We are concerned about these developments and we are following the change in US and Cuban law and, as it progresses, we will adjust.”