Cuba is not foreign territory to American Airlines. It's been flying there from South Florida since 1991, though technically not as American Airlines. It flies an average of 22 of charter flights a week to the island from Miami and Tampa. It plans to launch another charter from Los Angeles before the year is over. And it wants more.
The State Department and Cuba have been talking for months about allowing regularly scheduled flights between the two countries -- talks American thinks will allow its passengers to book flights to Havana as easily as to Harrisburg.
WLRN's The Sunshine Economy spoke with American Airlines Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Howard Kass about the airline's Cuban ambitious. Here are the highlights:
When does American think regular commercial passenger air service with Cuba could begin?
- Sometime in the first half of next year.
- American is ready to go on day one.
Why such confidence?
- I don't think that there are a lot of stumbling blocks that remain. I think that both governments have work to do certainly. But I also think both governments want to see this happen.
How would this change the business opportunity that American sees in Cuba?
- You’ll be able to book at AA.com or through any of the other sales channels that American uses. Today you can only book a flight to Cuba by going through the charter operators.
- Today when we take somebody to Cuba, the charter process is a separate one. We can't ticket them all the way through. Their bag check isn't seamless. So once different points in Cuba become part of the American network, a passenger in Minneapolis will book a ticket to Havana just as easily as that same passenger in Minneapolis books a ticket to other point in the Caribbean on American.
How much more business does American think it can do with Cuba with regular service as opposed to charter service?
- As the Obama administration brings down more and more prohibitions on doing business and traveling to Cuba and interacting with Cuba, we believe that will increase demand.
- As folks who never considered Cuba a destination now want to go, as businesses never thought they could sell in Cuba now have it on their radarscope, we think that will increase demand.
- Over time we think that the prohibition on tourism will go away. That will also increase demand to Cuba.
American will start flying charter service to Cuba from Los Angeles in December. What about Dallas and other American hubs?
- We know Miami's going to be a great hub for Cuba.
- We're looking at our other hubs as potential opportunities, but we haven't made any decisions yet.
Will there be limitations for regular service when it comes to luggage and packages?
- I don't think we've gotten that far along in sorting through those issues.
- As the largest carrier to the Caribbean and the Latin America region, we're certainly familiar with what customers bring.
As American Airlines’ vice president of regulator affairs, you've got a full plate of stakeholders to keep on top of. Where does Cuba rank?
- It's really important to the company. The company wants to have a big presence in Cuba. It's a high priority.