Alaska Air Fends Off JetBlue Plea to U.S. for Prized Cuba Route

  • JetBlue sought extra Havana flight with shift to Boston
  • Alaska will postpone start of Los Angeles-Havana until January

Alaska Air Group Inc. received permission for a five-week delay in starting service on a prized flight between Havana and Los Angeles, as regulators rejected an attempt by JetBlue Airways Corp. to secure the route and move it to Boston.

The U.S. Transportation Department agreed Alaska could wait until Jan. 5 to begin the service instead of the original mandate of Nov. 29, according to an Oct. 22 regulatory filing. The Seattle-based carrier had asked for more time to market the new flight and for customers to plan Cuba trips for allowed purposes.

U.S. officials in July made preliminary awards of 20 daily frequencies to Havana as part of normalizing air links with Cuba for the first time in half a century. Those selections, involving eight carriers, were completed in August. Some flights to nine other Cuban cities already have begun, following their approval in June. 

“When we selected Alaska’s Los Angeles-Havana proposal, we did so because we concluded that Alaska’s proposal would provide important public interest benefits,” the agency said in a filing. “The department agreed with Alaska’s assertions that U.S. travelers from the western United States should not be denied a nonstop travel option to Havana.”

Not Enough

JetBlue’s arguments weren’t compelling enough to scrub Alaska’s route to the Cuban capital from Los Angeles, the U.S. metropolitan area with the fourth-largest population of Cuban Americans, regulators said. JetBlue had argued the 37-day delay was a commercial decision not to open a new market during the busy holiday season.

Alaska’s extension request “evidences a lack of preparation and readiness to accept the Department’s award of this scare resource,” JetBlue said in its filing. “Alaska claims that starting Havana service during this time would be ‘particularly problematic,’ but ignores that every other U.S. carrier faces the same seasonal trends.”

Alaska told regulators JetBlue’s request was “unreasonable” and noted JetBlue received a six-month delay in starting flights to Bogota in the past.

Regulators have awarded several airlines two-day extensions from the start date set when it approved a limited number of Havana routes Aug. 31. JetBlue is seeking a one-day delay for one flight from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and a two-day delay for the other. Southwest Airlines Co. has requested permission to postpone the start of Havana flights from Fort Lauderdale and Tampa, Florida, to Dec. 12.

American Airlines Group Inc., Delta Air Lines Inc. and United Continental Holdings Inc. also were awarded Havana routes. They haven’t sought delays in starting service.

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