In 2016, U.S. airlines celebrated the re-opening of U.S.-Cuba routes as the Obama Administration initiated the historic efforts to normalize the relations between Havana and Washington. On the 31st of August 2016, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx landed in Cuba on the first scheduled commercial flight to the island in over 50 years, a JetBlue Airways flight from Fort Lauderdale to Santa Clara.

American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Frontier Airlines, Silver Airways and JetBlue have all launched Cuba-bound routes in the last half a year, but contrary to initial forecasts, the demand for such flights is dwindling, with carriers already starting to cut frequencies.


Shrinking demand for U.S. airlines

The hype over Cuba-bound flights did not last long. American Airlines announced in December 2016 that they would be cutting frequency of their Miami to Cuba (Holguín, Santa Clara, and Varadero) flights as of the 16th of February 2017. American, however, will still operate a daily flight to each of the three cities, Airline Geeks reported.

On the second week of February 2017, the first U.S. airlines to land in Cuba after five decades – JetBlue – announced that it is also reducing its service to Cuba. The New York-based LCC will maintain the existing routes to Cuba, but it will employ smaller aircraft which will be effective on the 3rd of May 2017.

Starting from November 2016, the airline flies from New York (JFK), Orlando and Fort Lauderdale to Havana. The Travel Pulse reported that starting from May 2017, it will switch out its 200-seat Airbus A321 to smaller 150-seat Airbus A320s on those routes.

The switch means that there will be 300 fewer seats to Cuba every day for the airline. JetBlue did not disclose the reason for such a decision.

Following the steps of the main players, Silver Airways – a much smaller airline – which  began to fly to Cuba in September 2016 has also announced frequency cuts.

Last year, Silver said that as with its entire network and all airlines, seasonal schedule adjustments were common to best match demand. It added that it was pleased with bookings thus far particularly given that many major online travel agents have yet to begin selling U.S. carrier flights to Cuba.

Adam Levine-Weinberg at the Motley Fool wrote that the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) allocation process also encouraged airlines to "overbid." In other recent route allocation proceedings, the DOT has shown a clear preference for carriers that promise to use bigger aircraft.

While the market is oversupplied right now, it is not feasible to cut flights, because other airlines would take over any unused slots in order to profit from the long-term growth of U.S.-Cuba travel, Levine-Weinberg added.


‘Travel warning’ remains

Travel Pulse reported that although it has become easier than ever for U.S. citizens to visit Cuba, certain restrictions remain in place. Tourism for tourism’s sake is still prohibited.

Travelers who wish to visit Cuba must apply for a special visa from the United States Department of Treasury, in one of 12 categories, such as travel for humanitarian or educational purposes.

The Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has issued general licenses for 12 categories of travel.  U.S. citizens who meet the regulatory conditions of the general license they seek to travel under do not need to apply for an additional license from the OFAC to travel to Cuba.