If an Obama-backed deal makes scheduled air service from
the U.S. to Cuba a reality by the end of the year, it could prove a
mixed blessing for travelers.
According to several companies that operate tours to Cuba,
the island’s inadequate infrastructure and lack of sufficient hotel rooms mean
that the surge that would follow the resumption of scheduled flights would
bring higher costs in both hotel rates and tours, even as getting to Cuba would
become much easier.
“If scheduled air will be allowed, it can dramatically
change the travel scene when it comes to pricing and scheduling,” said Ronen
Paldi, president of Ya’lla Tours USA.
On the up side, he said, passengers would be able to book
nonstop flights from many U.S. gateways and check their baggage all the way
through to Cuba as well as forgo having to spend the night in Miami before the
morning charter flight, as is now the case. In addition, passengers would not
have to pay the $236-per-person handling fee that Cuba now charges charter
However, Paldi said, “The demand for travel from the U.S.
will increase, and when the Cubans cannot meet the demand, scheduled flights
will push [hotel and tour prices] higher than they already are.”
Insight Cuba’s Tom Popper agreed.
“Ultimately, scheduled air would be positive for travelers
but not more cost-effective,” he said. “Flight costs will remain the same, and
more flights mean increased demand on Cuba’s hotel infrastructure.”
For now, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue and
United Airlines are watching from the sidelines, though they seem poised to
enter the market as soon as legally permitted.
JetBlue has operated charter service to Cuba for several
years from Fort Lauderdale and Tampa and launched service from New York to
Havana on July 3.
“We have built experience operating in Cuba with our
charters to help us to be ready to go with scheduled service once permitted,”
said JetBlue spokeswoman Tamara Young. “Demand for our JFK flight has been
growing briskly, and we’ve been at or near capacity in recent weeks for all our
American currently operates 22 weekly charter flights to
Cuba and this year will operate more than 1,200 flights to Camaguey, Cienfuegos,
Holguin, Havana and Santa Clara from Miami and Tampa, up 9% over 2014. The
carrier will launch weekly Los Angeles-Havana charters on Dec. 12.
“Once we get the green light to offer regularly scheduled
service, we are ready to go,” American spokeswoman Martha Pantin said.
Both Delta and United support efforts to allow scheduled
service to resume between the U.S. and Cuba and plan to serve the market when
Southwest considers Cuba a “good future opportunity” but is
focused on other Latin American and Caribbean destinations, said Alyssa
Eliasen, a Southwest spokeswoman.
The three major GDSs are at work developing technologies to
add Cuba flights to their systems.
“Travelport is ready to immediately make available in the
Travelport system regularly scheduled, commercial flights to Cuba for
authorized travelers, if and when U.S. carriers receive legal permission to
offer such service,” said Chris Engle, Travelport’s vice president Americas,
Amadeus is also ready at the starting gate.
“Aligned with the recent change of the U.S. law, Amadeus
travel agencies in the U.S. will soon be able to book flights to and from Cuba
for authorized travelers, pursuant to U.S. Treasury Department regulations,”
said Amadeus spokeswoman Debra Iannaci. She added that details would be
released in the coming weeks.
Sabre is also working on a new capability for agents to help
manage travel to Cuba, said Daniel Duarte, a Sabre spokesman.