JetBlue Airways has announced plans to increase its charter services to Cuba with A320 aircraft featuring all leather seats, treats, and ample legroom.
The announcement is of a single charter flight added to JetBlue’s established service but it signals the airlines intent to capitalize on opportunities in the Caribbean market, including the recent warming of relations between Cuba and the United States.
“We are ready to serve all types of travel to Cuba as soon as it becomes permissible,” Dave Clark, vice president, network planning tells Skift. “Today, we do it via charter, but in the future, whether it’s tourism or business, we are certainly interested in being able to serve those customers.”
Though the Caribbean is a well-established aviation market with continuous projects underway to improve services, we asked Clark whether the prolonged U.S. economic blockade of the island had put Cuba’s aviation infrastructure at a disadvantage.
“The aviation infrastructure is quite good,” Clark tells us. “With our strong experience, operating charters to Cuba since 2011, we think the infrastructure for air travel to Cuba is on par with the rest of the Caribbean region.”
Clark does not believe that the increased popularity over the past decades of other Caribbean islands would have any diminishing effect on the appeal of the Pearl of the Antilles, nor does he believe that other Caribbean islands would see a significant decrease in tourism should Cuba become a vacation option for US travelers.
To Clark, the Caribbean as a whole is an attractive destination to Americans and Cuba would be just as likely to benefit when that becomes an option.
“People in the Northeast love to go to the Caribbean. Literally millions of our passengers from New York and Boston go to the Caribbean,” he says. “A lot of it will depend on Cuba’s tourism infrastructure, how the top offerings compare to the other options in the Caribbean. We’re certain there will be some demand from curiosity that will help them drive travel and draw people there.”
JetBlue’s flights to Cuba are operated on the airline’s Airbus A320 aircraft, with 150 leather seats offering more legroom than competitors’ Economy class, and 42 of which are configured as Even More seats giving passengers an extra four inches of space at the knees. The airline also offers large overhead bins, free live seatback entertainment, and free snacks on these flights.
“We have found that our product offering has really resonated with the Cuban market,” Clark says. “We’re getting fantastic feedback on our charter service from people flying JetBlue to Cuba.”
As to whether JetBlue will bring along its new Mint class for the mojito-friendly market, Clark tells us: “We don’t have any plans for that today, but it’s certainly something that’s under review.”
American Airlines confirmed that it is reviewing expansion of service to Cuba, but Clark does not believe this would detrimentally affect JetBlue’s own position as the largest carrier to the Caribbean.
“American and JetBlue are really the only two major US airlines serving Cuba today, but we feel very strong about our customer experience,” he tells us. “We’ve been able to compete quite a bit with other carriers, including American, throughout the Caribbean. We’re an exciting carrier. That JetBlue—which just turned 15 years old—has become the largest airline to the Caribbean is testament of how strong our product is, how strong our offers are, that we can compete with anyone in the region.”
This new JetBlue charter flight is the first expansion in charter services by a major U.S. airline since restrictions on travel to Cuba were eased in January. Established by an agreement with ABC Charters the service commences on June 5, and will operate on Fridays from Tampa to Havana.
JetBlue and its partner ABC Charters operate weekly flights from Tampa to Havana on Tuesdays and from Tampa to Santa Clara on Wednesdays. JetBlue also operates flights between Fort Lauderdale and Havana through Xael Charters on Fridays. The airline states it is evaluating opportunities for additional charter flights.