Alaska Airlines plans to start flying from Los Angeles International Airport to Cuba in January despite an attempt by rival JetBlue Airways to hijack the route away from the Seattle-based carrier and leave Southern California travelers out in the cold.
Alaska Airlines was one of eight U.S. carriers awarded routes to Cuba under the Obama administration's efforts to open relations with the communist country.
JetBlue was also awarded Cuban routes and has begun service to the island nation from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The carrier plans to launch more routes from Orlando, Fla., and New York soon.
But when Alaska asked the U.S. Department of Transportation to allow the airline to postpone the start of its service by 37 days, JetBlue petitioned the agency to reallocate the route to JetBlue.
JetBlue wrote to the Department of Transportation suggesting that Alaska wants a delay because the LAX-to-Cuba route doesn't have strong passenger demand, and requested that JetBlue take the slot to instead fly a new route from Boston to Cuba.
An attorney for Alaska, David Hefferman, fired back with a letter to the agency saying JetBlue had itself requested delays in starting new service to Colombia in 2009.
"JetBlue's own history of seeking [and receiving from the department] a much longer start-up extension when it was a new entrant into the U.S.-Colombia market supports Alaska's position," he wrote.
Alaska is still waiting to hear the Transportation Department's ruling on the matter.
"Our nonstop flight between Los Angeles and Havana will serve the needs of West Coast residents, and we're confident the Department of Transportation will approve this request," Alaska spokeswoman Halley Knigge said.