American is Dramatically Cutting Capacity on Cuban Flights

Last month I wrote about American Airlines’ flights to Cuba, which may not be seeing the passenger load they were hoping for. To give you an idea, some flights were so empty that they literally left with just 12 passengers. I wondered at the time whether American Airlines had planned this all along, and simply wanted to project a strong message of commitment at launch.

American Airlines is reducing capacity on Cuban flights. Source: American Airlines

American Airlines is reducing capacity on Cuban flights. Source: American Airlines

We may never know the answer to that question, but American is dramatically cutting of the number of available seats on the Cuban routes, on the heel of the inaugural flights to the capital city of Havana. According to the Miami Herald, American is cutting 3 daily round-trip flights between the US and Cuban cities, starting mid-February. Essentially, they will only be flying one daily flight to each of these cities from Miami (MIA):

  • Camaguey (CMW)
  • Cienfuegos (CFG)
  • Holguin (HOG)
  • Santa Clara (SNU)
  • Varadero (VRA)
American Airlines currently operate 5 routes to Cuba, totalling 56 flights a week

American Airlines currently operate 5 routes to Cuba, totalling 56 flights a week

American Airlines is also changing up the equipment for the Cuba market. Currently, American operates a mix of Airbus A319 and Boeing 737-800 on their routes to Cuba, offering between 128 and 160 seats per flight. An American spokesperson said that they will also be operating smaller jets on two of the routes. Presumably this will mean a downgrade to regional jets like the E175,  though I wasn’t able to see any changes loaded in ExpertFlyer yet.

It’s anyone’s guess why these routes are underperforming. Perhaps after a 5o-year ban, it’d take a while for travelers to adjust to commercial flights (as opposed to charter flights, which operated similar routes). Or maybe this was American’s plan all along, to start out strong but know that reality would not support the launch capacity. Since US citizens are still banned from visiting Cuba for tourism purposes, and can only travel there for one of twelve criteria, perhaps “tourist” demand isn’t as high as the airline had hoped for. Of course, there’s always a chance that American is simply charging too high a price for consumers, since JetBlue seems to be doing relatively okay with their routes.

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