The continued pullback from Cuba by US carriers is no surprise – Southwest Airlines who I’ve speculated for months would pull some Cuba flights has announced today that it will discontinue flights from Fort Lauderdale to the secondary cities of Varadero and Santa Clara in the fall. The complete withdrawal of Southwest from these routes following Silver Airlines departure from all Fort Lauderdale to Cuba flying in April leaves American (from Miami) and JetBlue (from Fort Lauderdale) as the only remaining US carriers serving Cuban cities beyond Havana. While Southwest backers have been quick to blame President Trump’s recent change in Cuba policy today for the route cuts, it’s unlikely even under the Obama-era policy these routes would have been viable much longer for the Dallas-based airline.
Both American and JetBlue have smaller regional jets that can give it a go on thinner routes but Southwest’s smallest plan in its fleet after September will be the (approximately) 130 seat 737-700. Southwest has proven with its lack of commuter planes and smaller jets to be unable to keep smaller cities viable in its network even in the domestic market, so these pull downs are logical.
Southwest has applied for a third daily Fort Lauderdale to Havana frequency seeking one of the two daily flights that were abandoned by Spirit Airlines earlier this month. JetBlue has also applied for an additional frequency as has Delta who would move the flight to Miami.
Perhaps the continued drop in scheduled flights from the US to Cuba will ultimately benefit Miami-based Eastern Airlines, the newish carrier with a legendary name whose charter business began to suffer with the liberalization in Cuba policy under President Obama. It’s worth noting Eastern Airlines owner Vincent Viola is close to the President and was Trump’s initial Secretary of the Army nominee. Viola dropped out and is now selling Eastern Airlines to Arizona-based Swift Air.