The initial exuberance about the US-Cuba aviation deal led to a rush of applications by US airlines to fly to Cuba. 75% of the new flight allocations were made from Miami or Fort Lauderdale, but airlines who rushed to fill the void are already feeling the pinch. Yesterday, American Airlines downgraded multiple flights from Miami to Cuba and recently Silver Airlines has done the same from Fort Lauderdale. JetBlue Airways has launched all Fort Lauderdale to Cuba flights on time but reports are that the loads are not quite up to expectations.
Last week, Southwest Airlines launched Fort Lauderdale to Varadero services. This particular route will be interesting as Varadero is probably the number one Cuban destination for European and Canadian tourists. If Southwest is unable to fill these flights with connecting passengers or people originating in Fort Lauderdale, it probably indicates that tourist market is a long way off from being meaningful.
Obtaining a tourist visa to visit Cuba remains difficult and business ties between Florida and Cuba have yet to be established in any meaningful manner. Airlines might choose to try and sit on slots by accepting huge losses because establishing themselves in a limited marketplace before it becomes wide open could be lucrative down the road. But with Donald Trump winning the election and the possibility he might surround himself in terms of trade deals with protectionists in addition to his foreign policy instincts which are adversarial toward Cuba, this market may never take off in a lucrative way.
Establishing strong commercial and cultural ties with Cuba is critical for Florida’s growth in the next decade. Let’s hope the market between the state and Cuba picks up in the next few months to justify this volume of flights and to blunt any attempts by the Trump administration to weaken or even sever ties.