Icelandair has won regulatory approval to begin offering charter flights connecting the United States and Cuba.
Icelandair Will Operate Charter Flights Between USA And Cuba
Travel restrictions against Cuba returned during the Trump Administration, again restricting tourism in the communist island nation. While commercial flights are still permitted, many carriers abandoned service to Cuba even before the pandemic after failing to see a return. On the other hand, charter flights continue, mostly between Florida and Havana. These flights carry the same restrictions as commercial flights, but are organized in a manner in which higher load factors and pricing have led to better returns.
One company that offers charter flights is called Anmart Air (who also go by Superior Airways). The charter operator does not have of its own aircraft, but contracts out to other airlines to fly on its behalf. It is now patterning with Icelandair.
In 2022, Icelandair will offer 170 round-trips between the USA and Havana, including:
- Miami – 136 flights
- Orlando – 17 flights
- Houston – 17 flights
These will be operated using Icelandair’s 757-200s, which were chosen for the extra cargo storage capacity available onboard. The flights will operate between February 1st and May 31st.
These are not “Fifth Freedom” flights between the flights will not touch Iceland (i.e., the carrier will not fly from Reykjavik to Miami to Havana, but the 757s will be based in the USA).
U.S. Airlines Object
Not surprisingly, some U.S. airlines are objecting. Mark Schneider, attorney for Global Crossing Airlines, wrote to the DOT:
“Icelandair’s primary reason for seeking approval on an additional 170 flights over a four-month period is to impose an economic hardship on the current US air carriers.”
Global Crossing Airlines, Swift Air, and World Atlantic Airlines are three charter operators that focus on Cuba travel.
Icelandair points out that the U.S. allows 3,600 annual charter flights as part of its public charter system and that U.S. airlines have not even attempted to fill those slots.
“With no other applications for allotment from the pool before the Department, Icelandair fails to understand how it is taking any market share to the detriment of US based carriers.”
Indeed, in granting Icelandair’s application, U.S. regulators noted that other airlines could still apply for remaining open slots.
What Type Of Travel To Cuba is Allowed?
Currently, U.S. citizens are only permitted to travel to Cuba for the following reasons:
- Family visits
- Official business of the US government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations
- Journalistic activity
- Professional research
- Education 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 institutes
- Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials
- Certain authorized export transactions
These rules are enforced by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.
Icelandair has been granted approval to operate between the USA and Cuba. As transatlantic traffic remains muted due to the pandemic, Icelandair is seeking a new vein of revenue after U.S. carriers left open slots in Cuba’s lucrative charter flight market.