American wants to fly to Havana

Kevin Mase, an American Airlines chief pilot, drapes a Cuban flag on a Boeing 737 on Dec. 16, 2015 - the day President Barack Obama announced the thawing of relations with Cuba./
Kevin Mase, an American Airlines chief pilot, drapes a Cuban flag on a Boeing 737 on Dec. 16, 2015 - the day President Barack Obama announced the thawing of relations with Cuba./ American Airlines

This week, American Airlines is celebrating 25 years of its unique and booming charter service to Cuba. As it marks the accomplishment, Miami International Airport’s largest carrier, while acknowledging that past, is now contemplating the future of its service to the island. And it’s not the only airline that’s doing so.

For Miami-based American, thawed relations between the United States and Cuba mean air space over the Florida Straits soon will be crowded. Not surprisingly, several carriers want a piece of the 110 commercial flights a day that the U.S. Department of Transportation and Cuban government have approved to the island. A decision could come as early as May.

All the carriers, just like American, have petitioned the DOT to grant them daily routes. American’s proposal is three binders thick. The carrier is requesting 10 daily flights from Miami to Havana; there will also be flights daily or weekly from Charlotte, Dallas/Fort Worth, Chicago and Los Angeles.

In addition, American seeks to provide eight more daily flights to Santa Clara, Holguín, Varadero, Camagüey and Cienfuegos.

JetBlue, United Airlines, Eastern, Frontier, Southwest, Delta, Alaska Air, Spirit, Silver Airways and FedEx also among airlines throwing their hats in the ring for this rare opportunity to expand into virgin territory.

Our hometown bias aside, we’re rooting for American Airlines to snag a big piece of this pie. It makes the most sense from a business perspective and a cultural perspective.

While other carriers based in other U.S. cities and vying for the same routes are seeking support from community and tourism leaders, understandably carrying on public-relations campaigns to land the routes, American Airlines, in deference to long-time customers in Miami’s Cuban-exile community, is keeping a lower profile about its wish to be the top carrier to Havana.

Its leadership has decided to avoid the politics and resentments that might be unleashed by its requests to do business with Communist Cuba. That’s admirable thinking, however, with competing airlines bringing their own civic cheerleaders to the table, American might do well to rethink its own approach. After all, the DOT shouldn’t think that Miami’s business community isn’t on board or is indifferent.

“We’ve decided to let the business case speak for itself,” Howard Kass, vice president for regulatory affairs, told the Editorial Board on Tuesday.

And, indeed, American Airlines has a solid case to make. Its quarter century of flying charters to Cuba gives it vast experience that other airlines just don’t have.

Mr. Kass said that American is “uniquely positioned” to smoothly transition into offering scheduled flights. He’s right, other airlines will have to play catch-up, quickly.

American already knows how to deal successfully — and diplomatically — with the Cuban government; it understands the security issues that accompany flights to the island, and the ground operations at Havana’s Jose Martí Airport. It also recognizes the growing needs of Miami’s exile community and knows that Miami is the epicenter of Latin American travel — and should continue to be so.

American Airlines should be praised for being sensitive to some of its customers’ painful political experience — and it should also be rewarded with the routes requested. Its 25-year competitive edge can’t be ignored.