- Icelandair may soon fly between the US and Cuba thanks to a ruling from the Department of Transportation.
- US airlines objected to Icelandair’s presence in the market, but ultimately lost it.
- Travel to Cuba is notoriously restrictive due to the ongoing sanctions.
North Americans now have another option when flying to Cuba.
Icelandair is known for connecting North America and Europe through its homeland of Iceland. But with a new route, the flag carrier from the Land of Fire and Ice could carry passengers between Cuba and both Florida and Texas.
On January 13, the US Department of Transportation approved an application from Icelandair to operate 170 round-trip charter flights between Havana and the US cities of Miami, Orlando and Houston.
The average American won’t be able to just buy a ticket on any of the flights, as the US government restricts the types of travel to Cuba that US citizens are allowed to do, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control said. continue sanctions.
Travel for tourist purposes is prohibited for US citizens. Some permitted reasons to travel:
- Visit family
- Official Affairs of the United States Government, Foreign Governments, and Certain Intergovernmental Organizations
- journalistic activity
- Professional research
- Educational Activities
- Religious Activities
- Athletic competitions by amateur or semi-professional athletes or athletic teams
- Support for the Cuban people
- humanitarian projects
- Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutions
- Export, import or transmission of information or information material
- Certain authorized export transactions
US airlines object to Icelandair
U.S. and foreign airlines can bid to operate flights between the U.S. and Cuba under the DOT’s public charter system for flights to Cuba, which allows 3,600 flights annually from the U.S. But Icelandair’s request to fly between two countries that are not its home country was not without objection from US airlines.
Swift Air, World Atlantic Airlines and Global Crossing Airlines – three US airlines that mainly offer charter services with passenger aircraft – strongly objected to Icelandair’s entry into the market.
“Icelandair’s main reason for requesting approval for an additional 170 flights over a four-month period is to impose economic problems on current US airlines,” Mark Schneider, a lawyer for Global Crossing Airlines, told DOT. Icelandair responded to Global Crossing and Swift Air by saying it is not taking slots away from airlines and that its charter partner had already excluded other US airlines.
“With no other applications for pool allocation for the ministry, Icelandair does not understand how it is gaining market share at the expense of US-based airlines,” Jonathan Fuchs, Icelandair’s general adviser for the Americas, wrote to the DOT.
Icelandair said its advantage over US carriers was in the baggage compartments of its Boeing 757 aircraft. Even with Icelandair’s relatively large plane, 54 suitcases had to be left behind on the first flight from Orlando to Havana due to lack of space.
Carriers operating smaller aircraft, such as the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 families, would not be able to carry nearly the same amount of baggage, according to Icelandair. The DOT eventually sided with Icelandair and authorized the flights. It added that additional slots were still open for US carriers to apply for.
Airlines have adapted to the new realities of air travel during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Icelandair has scaled back its transatlantic flights due to travel restrictions and fluctuations in demand as new coronavirus variants are discovered. The new route aims to give Icelandair an additional revenue stream, even if the flights don’t hit Iceland at all.
Icelandair plans to operate the 170 flights between February 1 and May 31.