Alaska Airlines said Wednesday it has applied to fly two daily nonstop flights from its Latin America gateway of Los Angeles to Havana.
Alaska Airlines is one of eight U.S. airlines to apply on Wednesday for permission to fly to Cuba as longtime tensions between the U.S. and its Cold War rival recede.
The move comes shortly after the governments of both nations agreed to re-establish scheduled flights after a half century of interruption.
In February, the U.S. Department of Transportation invited U.S. carriers to apply for an allocation of up to 20 daily round-trip flights between the U.S. and Havana, which is Cuba’s capital. In total, 110 daily round-trip flights between the island and U.S. cities are up for grabs.
Alaska proposes to fly two daily nonstop flights from its Latin America gateway of Los Angeles to Havana. The Seattle-based airline says L.A. has the largest Cuban-American population in the Western U.S.
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American Airlines, the largest carrier in the U.S., applied to operate 10 daily flights into Havana from Miami, as well as other flights from Charlotte, Dallas/Fort Worth, L.A. and Chicago. American also wants to connect Miami, the largest Cuban-American enclave in the U.S., to five other Cuban cities.
Delta, which has become a big rival for Alaska in the Seattle market, also applied for nonstop service to Cuba from Atlanta, New York, Miami and Orlando.
United Airlines, JetBlue, Southwest Airlines, Frontier Airlines and Florida-based Silver Airways have applied as well.
Alaska said its application to the U.S. Department of Transportation calls for L.A.-Havana flights using a Boeing 737-900ER, which carries 181 passengers in a two-class configuration.
The airline in recent years has been growing its route system and now flies internationally to Canada, Costa Rica and Mexico. It says it offers more than 110 nonstop destinations from Los Angeles.
The U.S. Department of Transportation is expected to award the available route authorities before the end of summer, Alaska said.
The re-establishment of rescheduled air transport between the U.S. and Cuba comes more than a year after the Obama administration initiated a rapprochement with the government of Raul Castro. Last July Cuba reopened its embassy in Washington, D.C., and a month later the U.S. reopened its embassy in Havana.
President Obama is scheduled to visit Cuba this month, the first U.S. head of state to do so in nearly a century.
Tensions remain, however. A five-decade-old trade embargo still has staunch defenders in Congress and among South Florida’s Cuban-American population, and critics of the detente say the Cuban government has given little in exchange for the overture in terms of its treatment of dissidents or democratic freedoms. Obama contends that years of hostility have been ineffective.
Travel restrictions for Americans also remain, even though they’ve been somewhat relaxed. While Cuban Americans, journalists, businessmen and humanitarian travelers are authorized to visit the island, under U.S. law those simply wanting to sip daiquiris by Varadero beach are not allowed to do so.
There’s also the issue of whether Cuba’s infrastructure is ready to deal with a flood of American tourists. There are widespread reports of hotel-room shortages.
Julio Ortiz, who left Cuba in the late 1990s and now runs the Twisted Cuban Cafe & Bar in Woodinville, doesn’t think the airports are up to par either.
He says that his last trip there, in December, was plagued with mishaps and delays. (Right now flights between Cuba and the island are expensive charters run by specially authorized agencies.)
“We’re talking about chaos,” he said in an interview.
“There’s not enough infrastructure in Cuba that can handle more than 100 flights a day. It’s impossible,” he said. “All the tourists are going to go — once.”