Airlines get nasty in competition for routes to Cuba

 The war of words has gotten nasty, with the candidates describing the ideas of their rivals as “disingenuous,” “extreme” and “capricious.”

These are not the comments of presidential candidates. This is the language used by airlines that are competing for a handful of routes to Cuba that the U.S. government will award this summer under the Obama administration’s effort to normalize relations with the island nation.

As part of the selection process, the U.S. Department of Transportation has asked that the competing carriers submit written requests for the routes they want as well as responses to the proposals of their rivals.

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The federal agency plans to approve 20 daily round-trip flights to Havana, and 10 flights to nine smaller airports around the communist country.

The language in these responses has taken an ugly tone because airline executives know that the Cuban routes will be in high demand, particularly from Cuban Americans living near Miami, New York and Los Angeles.

In its application, New York-based JetBlue Airways requested 12 daily flights to Havana and took shots at Delta Air Lines, saying “JetBlue, not Delta, is the leading domestic airline at JFK,” referring to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.

Delta, which requested to fly daily to Havana from four U.S. airports, fired back in its application, saying, “JetBlue's claim that it offered more seats and flights from JFK than any other airline in 2015 is demonstrably false.”

In Delta’s application, the Atlanta-based carrier took an additional shot at JetBlue by including photos of stranded JetBlue passengers sleeping in chairs at a JFK terminal.

Southwest Airlines, which requested nine of the 20 daily flights to Havana, said it can offer fares lower than American, Spirit and JetBlue on flights between South Florida and Havana.
United Airlines described a projection that Southwest made about demand for its service “capricious.”

American Airlines, which asked for 12 daily flights into Havana plus 10 daily or weekly flights to other Cuban airports, called Southwest’s request for six daily flights from Fort Lauderdale to Havana “absurd.”

American also slammed Alaska Airlines, saying its request for two daily flights from Los Angeles International Airport to Havana is “in the extreme and bears no rational relationship to historical, current or future demand.”

To read more about travel, tourism and the airline industry, follow me on Twitter at @hugomartin.

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