Fate of Delta’s tentative Atlanta-to-Cuba route to be clear by Friday, when U.S. DOT responds

By David Pendered

Delta Air Lines, Inc. should have a good sense by Friday as to whether it will retain the three daily routes to Cuba it was tentatively awarded this month, including one from Atlanta. Friday is the day the federal government is to respond to objections to its tentative awards.


Delta Air Lines, Inc. was tentatively awarded three daily routes to Havana, including one from Atlanta. By Friday, the U.S. Department of Transportation is to signal if the routes will be finalized later this summer. Credit: destinationsguidecopaair.com

Two governmental entities and four airlines have filed formal objections to the tentative route awards, according to federal filings. Two entities sent letters saying they were disappointed that Washington wasn’t awarded a route, won’t file an objection, and hope to receive a route to Cuba in any future expansion.

The U.S. Department of Transportation expects to reach a final decision on routes to Cuba later this summer. The DOT accepted objections through July 22 and has said it will answer them by Friday. The tentative list of routes was released July 7.

For its part, Delta has expressed its opinion that its tentative routes will be finalized.

“We look forward to providing the market with excellent customer and operational performance that will reunite families and support a new generation of travelers seeking to engage and explore this truly unique destination,” Nicolas Ferri, Delta’s Vice President – Latin America and the Caribbean, said in a statement.

The city and county of Denver, which operates Denver International Airport, filed an objection. Denver said it recognizes DOT’s goal of choosing cities and airlines that can serve large numbers Cuban-Americans. However, Denver contended, Frontier Airlines could serve 8 percent of the nation’s Cuban-American population from Denver. In addition, economic development in metro Denver is an issue:

Delta's tentative routes to Cuba

Delta has tentative approval from the federal government to fly three daily routes to Havana, from Atlanta, New York and Miami. Credit: Delta

  • “[D]espite a relatively small Cuban-American population, the Denver area has a vibrant economy with robust and growing relationships with and connections to Cuba.”

Frontier filed an objection, as well. It didn’t argue for its application to fly a Denver-Havana route. Frontier wants to grow its business in Florida.

Frontier called on DOT to eliminate six tentative routes assigned to Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport, move them to Miami, and give one of them to Frontier. Frontier said that would increase its Cuba-bound passengers from 18 percent to 30 percent of the Miami market. As a low cost operator, Frontier said its presence would, “impose far greater downward pressure on the prices to be charged [by competing airlines].”

The Massachusetts Port Authority, which operates Boston Logan International Airport, filed an objection. At the beginning, it indicates Massport was insulted by not receiving a route:

  • ”Boston is deserving of non-stop service from Havana. Boston is the hub of the Greater Boston and New England region, an economic powerhouse that competes on the global level…. Boston is home to over 450 life sciences businesses, including some of the largest and most prestigious biopharmaceutical companies in the world…. New England, and the City of Boston in particular, is also an epicenter of higher education…. Massachusetts is home to seven nationally ranked hospitals….”
Cuba snapshot, Delta

The U.S. and Cuba reestablished diplomatic relations in July 2015. Air flights from the U.S. to Cuba are to begin this year. Credit: Delta

At this point, Massport summed up its objection like a closing argument by a Harvard-trained lawyer who leads jurors to an answer that should have been self-evident:

  • “All these institutions have significant connections to Cuba which will drive demand under the existing categories of approved travel (i.e. these individuals can travel to Cuba now, as opposed to some date in the future when the travel ban is lifted). As such, Boston is a deserving candidate and should be considered for a frequency from Havana.”

The remaining objections were filed by JetBlue Airways Corp.; Silver Airways Corp.; and Eastern Air Lines Group.

The entities that expressed disappointment that Washington didn’t get a route were the Arlington (Va.) Chamber of Commerce and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.

United Airlines, Inc. had proposed to operate the Washington-to-Havana route. United didn’t protest too loudly, and in its comment letter to DOT first thanked the DOT for granting it routes from Newark and Houston to Havana. Then United looked toward the future:

Delta B757-200, Cuba

Delta has announced plans to fly the Atlanta-to-Cuba route with its 199-passenger Boeing 757-200. Credit: wikimedia.org

  • “United appreciates the Department’s recognition that the opening of the U.S.-Havana scheduled service market ‘is still at a developmental stage’ [per the DOT ruling] and looks forward to providing service to Havana from Washington, D.C. and Chicago when the opportunity exists. In this regard, should another carrier fail to meet the start-up or dormancy obligations attached to its Havana frequencies, United asks that the Department grant it the ability to inaugurate Saturday-only Havana service from Washington, D.C. and Chicago as proposed.”

Delta secured tentative approval for daily flights to Havana from Atlanta, New York and Miami. Delta has said it intends to begin service within 90 days of the final ruling on routes by the DOT.

Delta didn’t get all it had requested. According to DOT’s ruling, Delta had applied for five daily flights to Havana:

  • “One daily flight between New York (JFK) and Havana, using 199-seat B757-200 aircraft;
  • “One daily flight between Atlanta and Havana, using 199-seat B757-200 aircraft;
  • “Two daily flights between Miami and Havana, using 160-seat B737-800 aircraft;
  • “One daily flight between Orlando and Havana, using 160-seat B737-800 aircraft.”


David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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