American Airlines said Tuesday that it plans to begin flying a Miami-Santiago de Cuba route next year, opening up a new market to U.S. air travelers to the island’s second largest city.
Although U.S.-based cruise lines have called frequently in Santiago since the rapprochement between the United States and Cuba, the capital city of the southeastern province has been without direct regularly scheduled air service from the United States. Currently U.S. travelers who want to visit eastern Cuba must fly into the city of Holguín, a more than two-hour drive from Santiago de Cuba.
American asked the Department of Transportation for authorization to begin the daily route from Miami International Airport to Santiago’s Antonio Maceo Airport (SCU) on May 3. It would be American’s sixth destination in Cuba.
Next year American also will start new service between Dallas Fort Worth International Airport and Durango, Mexico, on June 6.
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“We have had a robust schedule of flights between the U.S. and the Mexico, Caribbean and Latin America region for years from our DFW and MIA hubs,” said Vasu Raja, vice president of network and schedule planning for American. “As we work to deliver the best network, these new routes reinforce our commitment to the region and provide new options for customers.”
Commercial service between the United States and Cuba resumed on Aug. 31, 2016, after a gap of more than 50 years. But since then, demand has fluctuated dramatically as travel regulations for Americans have changed.
Some airlines that were awarded Cuba routes by DOT had calculated that the opening toward Cuba that began during the Obama administration would continue to progress and demand would be strong for flights not only to Havana but also to provincial capitals.
However, with the U.S.-Cuba relationship dwindling under the Trump administration, the anticipated demand hasn’t materialized on some routes and several airlines have decreased the frequency of their flights or curtailed Cuba service entirely and returned their route allocations to DOT.
Travel out of Miami International Airport to Cuba has remained strong, and Miami has consolidated its position as the top U.S. gateway to the island. A few days ago, American asked DOT to allow it to switch its underperforming Charlotte-Havana route to a Miami-Havana route.
In that filing, the airline said: “When the U.S. government normalized relations with Cuba and authorized ‘individual people-to-people’ travel to Cuba, traffic to Cuba from several U.S. gateways surged. But the new restrictions on individual people-to-people travel, which became effective on November 9, 2017, reduced demand by non-Cuban-American travelers and caused U.S.-Cuba traffic at many gateways to drop significantly.”
The airline currently has five daily Miami-Havana flights, but in its 2016 petition when DOT was opening route allocation proceedings, American had asked for as many as 10 routes out of Miami.
Follow Mimi Whitefield on Twitter: @HeraldMimi