Miami or Fort Lauderdale?: American and Southwest duel on Cuba service in official government documents

The thawing in relations between Cuba and the United States has provided another front in the continent-wide battle between Dallas-Fort Worth area airlines. American Airlines and Southwest Airlines depending on the metric you use are two of the five largest airlines on the planet and both want to serve Havana with multiple daily flights from southeast Florida.

We detailed the applications for service between Florida and Cuba last week but did not focus on the brewing duel between arch-rivals Southwest and American until now due to our election coverage.

Southwest started off the battle stating that unless they were given at minimum two daily flights from Fort Lauderdale to Havana they would not begin service from Orlando or Tampa to Havana or from Fort Lauderdale to the secondary cities the airline applied to fly to within Cuba. Southwest claims service to Cuba cannot be profitable without a minimum of two flights on the Fort Lauderdale-Havana sector, where the airline has applied for six daily frequencies.

American who operates a massive hub in Miami and would like to force those who seek to fly from Fort Lauderdale to drive to Miami and those who might want to fly from Tampa or Orlando to connect in Miami retaliated by detailing that Miami International Airport had carried the vast majority of charter traffic to Cuba under the special permitting that allowed such flights in recent years. It is assumed at least initially that the vast majority of US-Cuba traffic will originate in southern Florida making the battle between Miami and Fort Lauderdale for this service all the more critical.

American’s response was straight-forward:

“These proposals are based on the premise that hundreds of thousands of Cuban Americans living in Miami-Dade County should be inconvenienced by having to travel to Broward County for scheduled service to Cuba.

The nine HAV frequencies requested by Southwest cover three of the U.S. gateways also requested by JetBlue, and these requests suffer from the same flaw: They are divorced from demographic and charter traffic reality. Moreover, Southwest’s minimal international operations from Florida and lack of experience in operating charter flights to Cuba make it particularly unsuited for its requested HAV frequencies.”

JetBlue, a far smaller airline than Southwest does have massive international operations experience from Florida operating a growing gateway in Fort Lauderdale for flights to Latin America while also operating a handful of useful point-to-point international flights from Orlando. No question exists American would like to block JetBlue’s Cuba applications as well. But Southwest is the real target of American here, as the rivalry between airlines originally fueled almost 4o years ago by the Wright Amendment has now became an international fight between two of the largest providers of air service on the planet.

Fair enough, at least perception wise most folks, myself included figure Miami is better positioned to handle traffic to/from Cuba than Fort Lauderdale.

However the management at Southwest doesn’t believe so and instead relying on assumptions they’ve pulled empirical data, albeit somewhat selectively to back up why Fort Lauderdale should be the primary gateway for Cuba flights from the United States.

As Between Fort Lauderdale and Miami, FLL Will Be the Airport Preferred by Most Cuban American Travelers from South Florida.
American Airlines’ Service Proposal Fails to Maximize Consumer Benefits and Warrants Only a Fraction of its Excessive MIA Frequency Request.

To back this claim Southwest has provided to the DOT a 167-page document outlining why Fort Lauderdale warrants the service Southwest is requesting and have also thrown in why Orlando and Tampa are better secondary gateways to Cuba than Charlotte which has been requested by American, or Atlanta which has been requested by Delta.

Included in the document is a full five page narrative backed up by more pages of charts and maps as to why Cuban-Americans in southeast Florida will prefer Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood (FLL) International Airport over Miami International Airport (MIA). While the majority of Cuban-Americans in southeast Florida are closer to MIA than FLL, close to 80% of the Cuban-American population is within an hour drive of FLL and since the Broward airport has lower costs and lower fares Southwest believes it is a better option for travelers. FLL already boasts more domestic service than MIA and has made major international inroads (at least to Latin America and the Caribbean but not really to Europe or Asia) in recent years thanks to the competitive nature of the airport and lower fares. Since the two airports are less than 30 miles apart by road they tend to draw many of the same customers who pick one over the other based on flight times, fares and what airline frequent flier program they are part of.

This Miami or Fort Lauderdale to Cuba question is a new front in an ongoing almost 40 year battle between two massive airlines. As the war rages between American and Southwest it would be ironic to see Delta be rewarded with Miami-Havana frequencies and JetBlue with Fort Lauderdale-Havana ones. While both American and Southwest view Delta and JetBlue as rivals, no rival is as important as your neighbor and the animosity between the two carriers that has grown through the generations has spilled into this battle. It will be fascinating to see how this all plays out.


  1. Lots of people in Miami fly from Fort Lauderdale already. People going to South America go on JetBlue all the time honestly.

    American is trying to protect market share but seriously what does Southwest know about Cuba?

    Shouldn’t JetBlue get the flight?


    1. In all likelihood American, Southwest and JetBlue will be given traffic rights. Either Delta or Frontier will be also.

      The AA/SWA fight though is more interesting than JetBlue v Delta or Delta v American or Southwest v JetBlue because both airlines have a serious rivalry akin to a local derby in soccer and make defensive/offensive moves against each other all the time. Everyone competes and makes moves on each other in what has become an industry with too little competition, but Southwest vs American is the big rivalry of all in US aviation and the disdain the two airlines have for each other came out publicly in these public documents to the DOT. They’re focused far more on each other than on the other competitors.


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