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Spirit, the fifth airline to cut back on Cuba, ends flights to Havana

Miramar-based Spirit Airlines is ending its Fort Lauderdale-Havana route in June.
Miramar-based Spirit Airlines is ending its Fort Lauderdale-Havana route in June. Sun Sentinel

Spirit Airlines’ Cuba fever is cooling down — big time.

The ultra-low cost carrier is ending its Havana flights from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in June. That makes it the fifth U.S. airline to cut back flights to the island after an initial rush of service that began last August.

Miramar-based Spirit started flying to Havana’s José Martí International Airport early this year, after being approved for twice-daily service to the Cuban capital in 2016. But weak demand — and overblown expectations — has taken a toll at Spirit and other airlines that overshot demand for travel to Cuba.

Before cutting service completely on June 1, Spirit will operate an adjusted schedule that will reduce its daily flights to one in the morning from May 3 to 23. From May 24 to 31, the carrier will operate on its twice-daily schedule before ending flights altogether.

The costs of serving Havana continue to outweigh the demand for service.

Paul Berry, Spirit spokesman

Spirit spokesman Paul Berry said the airline “really wanted FLL-HAV to work.”

“But the costs of serving Havana continue to outweigh the demand for service,” Berry said in a statement. “Due to overcapacity and the additional costs associated with flying to Cuba, we don’t find it sustainable to continue this service while maintaining our commitment to pass along ultra-low fares to our customers.”

Passengers already booked on an affected flight, such as the afternoon flights being cut in May, will be re-booked to the morning flight, Berry said. Those with flights beyond May 31 will get a full refund, he said. All affected passengers will receive a $50 voucher for future Spirit flights.

Spirit joins American Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Frontier Airlines and Silver Airways in reducing service.

American Airlines launches scheduled service from Miami to Havana on Monday. It's the first time in more than a half century that there's been scheduled service to the Cuban capital.

American Airlines was the first to reduce its service to Cuba, announcing in November that it would cut flights from Miami International Airport to Holguín, Santa Clara and Varadero from two daily to one. JetBlue announced it would move to smaller planes on several routes, including from Fort Lauderdale, to Havana, Santa Clara, Holguín and Camagüey effective May 3l, dialing back capacity across all routes by 300 seats a day.

Spirit joins American Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Frontier Airlines and Silver Airways in reducing service to Cuba.

In December, Silver Airways reduced the number of flights on six of its nine destinations to the island before announcing in March that it was cutting service to Cuba altogether on April 22. And last month, Frontier announced it would completely eliminate its Miami to Havana route on June 4.

Seth Kaplan, managing partner at trade publication Airline Weekly, said he can’t recall another time when airlines piled so many flights into a market “where there turned out to be so little demand.”

After 55 years, American Airlines begins scheduled commercial service between Miami and Cuban cities of Cienfuegos and Holguín.

“The problem here was that there was so little data to work with. Usually when an airline considers new nonstop service in a market, it can, for example, look at how many people are already flying between the cities on a connecting basis and try to project how many more might fly if a more convenient nonstop flight existed,” Kaplan said. “In this case, there was just no scheduled commercial service at all, not even connecting service.

“They always knew it was a long-term play, and they wanted to grab the scarce Havana rights while they could, but clearly they didn’t expect it to be this bad.”

They always knew it was a long-term play, and they wanted to grab the scarce Havana rights while they could, but clearly they didn’t expect it to be this bad.

Seth Kaplan, managing partner at trade publication Airline Weekly

The question is now, who’s left?

From Miami, American Airlines operates daily flights to Holguín, Cienfuegos, Camagüey, Santa Clara, Varadero and Havana and Delta Air Lines offers one daily flight to Havana.

On Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016, JetBlue became the first U.S. airline to initiate commercial flights with Cuba, kicking off with a flight from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport to Santa Clara, Cuba, in more than 50 years.

From Fort Lauderdale, JetBlue offers daily and weekly flights to Santa Clara, Camagüey, Holguín and Havana and Southwest Airlines still operates daily flights to Varadero, Santa Clara and Havana.

Chabeli Herrera: 305-376-3730, @ChabeliH

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