As of late last week, it remained unclear when operations at San Juan's Luis Munoz Martin airport would be back to normal. But industry experts said that the stunted service out of Puerto Rico's largest airport would not have a major impact on travelers to parts of the Caribbean that were spared during this ferocious hurricane season.
According to data prepared by the airline industry analytics company OAG, during September 2016 just 15,548 passengers flew from the U.S. through San Juan to another Caribbean destination. That's approximately 500 fliers per day. However nearly 9,000 of those passengers used San Juan as a connecting point for the U.S. Virgin Islands, the British Virgin Islands, Dominica and Dutch St. Maarten, all of which sustained major blows from either Hurricane Irma or Hurricane Maria.
That's a far cry from 15 years ago, when American used San Juan as a Caribbean hub, according to OAG spokesman Gil Haylon.
"San Juan is a classic case of low-cost airlines changing how the market flows," Haylon wrote in an email. "Where it was once the gateway to the Caribbean from the U.S., a mix of Caribbean islands seeking direct services and the arrival of [low-cost carriers] resulted in SJU no longer being used as a hub; traffic volumes fell, and the whole American Airlines/Eagle network disintegrated."
Indeed, according to an Airline Weekly review of data from analytics company Diio Mi data, capacity out of San Juan, as measured by total available seats, shrunk by 43% between 2000 and 2017 as American reduced operations there and as airlines began flying more direct routes to farther-flung Caribbean destinations from markets such as New York, Boston, Charlotte, Atlanta, Miami and Fort Lauderdale.
"San Juan has just kind of lost its importance over the years," Airline Weekly managing partner Seth Kaplan said. "A lot of it is there are a lot more nonstops."
But that's not to say Luis Munoz Marin Airport doesn't still play a role in facilitating vacationers headed to other Caribbean destinations from the U.S. JetBlue has far and away replaced American as the airline that takes the most connecting U.S. traffic through San Juan, according to OAG.
Of those approximately 15,500 mainland U.S. fliers who stopped in San Juan en route to other Caribbean locales last September, nearly 13,000 of them did so on JetBlue.
Underscoring those figures is the codeshare agreement that JetBlue entered into in late 2015 with the Caribbean carrier Seaborne Airlines, which hubs in San Juan. Under the partnership, JetBlue customers can fly on a single ticket through San Juan to each of Seaborne's 11 other Caribbean destinations.
The Caribbean market that is served most by San Juan, and that made it through Irma and Maria intact, is the Dominican Republic. The scheduled seat capacity to the Dominican Republic from San Juan this September was 25,700, more than any other Caribbean destination. And last September, 4,765 passengers flew from the continental U.S. through San Juan to the eastern Hispaniola country, second only to the 5,782 passengers who stopped in San Juan on the way to the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Even so, the Dominican Republic's capital, Santo Domingo, and especially the resort mecca Punta Cana, also get nonstop service from numerous markets in the eastern half of the U.S.