Despite US Sanctions Cuba Has Never Been So Well Connected

It’s been almost a month since Trump’s travel ban came into effect for airlines flying into Cuba. Since December, US airlines have been banned from flying to any location outside of Havana. However, Cuba has never been so well connected; here’s how aviation is responding to the Cuba flight ban.

American Airlines Cuba
Despite US sanctions, Cuba has more connections than ever. Photo: Getty

Trump’s travel ban to Cuba

In December last year, Trump’s ban on flights to nine Cuban cities went into effect. The mandate bans airline service to all cities on the island apart from Havana. Cities impacted included Santiago, Varadero and Santa Clara, as well as others.

Trump’s idea was to punish the Cuban government for its perceived support of Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro. However, the initial feedback is that it is the people, not the government, who the action is harming, as local businesses involved in tourism have watched their customers thin out.

Speaking at the recent IATA Media Days event, Peter Cerda, regional vice president for the Americas, talked about the impact the flight ban was having on airlines. He said,

“The restrictions will have a big impact. In particular, US airlines who have invested in services to the country will see an impact … Despite the US sanctions, however, Cuba has never been so well connected.”

American airlines cuba
US airlines can now only fly to Havana. Photo: American Airlines

Cerda even went on to say that, since Cuba was first opened to the US, airlines had rushed in so fast to add services that there was an oversupply of flights. In recent years, some airlines had already been pulling back from the routes in order to maintain load factors.

We’ve seen Alaska Airlines, Silver Airways and Frontier all canceling service to Cuba before the ban, in response to overcapacity. American Airlines dropped its Charlotte service and JetBlue cut capacity by using smaller aircraft too.

Despite this, JetBlue and American Airlines are the carriers most drastically hit by Trump’s flight ban, as they offered the most services from the US to Cuba’s non-Havana destinations. Cubana and Avianca have scrapped flights as a result of the ban too.

The airlines thinking outside of the box

While Trump’s ban affects all US carriers, it does not stretch to include charter companies. As such,  a number of charter companies have launched new services to the island in response to the ban.

Travel Pulse reveals that Cubazul Charter, a private operator based in Hialeah, had added 13 weekly flights to Cuba since the ban, and was planning to add four more to airports in Camaguey and Holguin. The airline told Travel Pulse,

“People are asking about our prices, schedules and (we are getting) many calls.”

Aerocuba, another charter company based in Miami, said it is now operating as many as 25 flights per week. It has added five cities outside of Havana to its operations since the ban came into effect.

Delta customer cuba
Charter airlines are picking up the slack left by US airlines’ exit. Photo: Delta

Since the ban on Cuba was lifted in 2016, charter companies have suffered with a huge downturn in flight demand. Previously the only way to travel between the US and Cuba, these companies could afford to charge high ticket prices for their services. But, since the influx of mainstream airlines, they have not been able to compete.

Now, however, tables are turning. A flight dispatcher for one of the charter airlines told On Cuba News how they are picking up the slack,

“We are responding to the need of the public who on these holidays, as on previous ones, travels en masse to Cuba. From here to the end of the year all flights have been sold out.”

Not a great deal of capacity lost

Overall, it doesn’t seem like Trump’s Cuba ban has really had the desired effect. The majority of people heading to Cuba’s interior (non-Havana) airports are migrant nationals living in the US, who are returning to the island to visit family. These individuals, currently numbering over half a million people, have had to deal with charter airlines and no scheduled US services for years, so it’s just back to the old ways for them.

Jetblue cuba
US airlines still have many flights to Havana. Photo: JetBlue

As far as tourism goes, the majority of holidaymakers would head into Havana as a starting point anyway. With more flights connecting Havana with the US than ever before, the ban has not slowed the demand whatsoever. An American Airlines employee told On Cuba News,

“In Cuba our operation is full. We had to hire more staff to process the return flights because now the lines are going to be huge.”

So, it seems that between the charter companies and mainline operators, not a great deal of capacity to Cuba has been lost. American now flies nine times per day to Cuba, with some of the flights leaving almost simultaneously. The main change is that now, instead of passengers arriving at destinations across Europe, visitors are funneled mostly via Havana, causing headaches for passengers, airlines and the airport.

Have you visited Cuba recently? How did you travel? Let us know in the comments.