In yet another sign of the problems the commercial market has with Cuba, Southwest, one of the few airlines that covers a number of Cuban cities from South Florida, will stop flying to Varadero as well as Santa Clara.
The modification, announced Wed, becomes effective on Sept 4. The air carrier will keep it’s two day-to-day direct flights to Havana from the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. Southwest has also asked for authorization from the Department of Transportation for a third round-trip flight between Fort Lauderdale plus Havana.
The news comes less than two weeks after President Donald Trump introduced new travel limitations to the island. Americans can no longer participate in individual trips in the so-called village-to-town category, and are prohibited from doing business with entities owned or controlled by the Cuban military services. But the federal government has not yet issued guidelines on how exactly the new regulations will work.
However, Southwest stressed that the decision to discontinue its flights to Varadero and Santa Clara is due to the challenge of stimulating demand in a new market such as Cuba, airline spokesman Brad Hawkins said in a statement.
“The decision to discontinue these flights is not directly linked to recent policy changes, but continues for many months to review our performance in the Varadero and Santa Clara markets,” Hawkins said. “Unfortunately, we do not see a sustainable way of serving these markets, because of the restrictions that already exist for Americans to visit Cuba freely.”
Varadero in particular, a town on the northwest coast of the island, is known for its beautiful beaches and resorts, not because of the village-by-town cultural experiences in which American travelers can participate. Under the rules set by the Barack Obama administration, Americans can not travel to the island for “tourism” purposes, but in some of the 12 approved categories, including travel for family, educational, and religious reasons.
Since commercial flights to Cuba began in August, most airlines have reduced or completely eliminated service to the island.
In June, Spirit Airlines and Frontier Airlines left the Cuban market, eliminating flights to Havana from Fort Lauderdale in the case of Spirit and from Miami in the case of Frontier. Silver Airways reduced all flights to nine destinations on the island in March.
For its part, American Airlines reduced flights from Miami International Airport to Holguin, Santa Clara and Varadero, from two newspapers to one, in November. American remains the only airline that continues to offer flights from South Florida to Cuban cities other than the capital. JetBlue Airways decided to use smaller planes on several routes, such as flights from Fort Lauderdale to Havana, Santa Clara, Holguín and Camagüey from May 31, which meant a reduction of 300 seats per day on all routes.
Travelers who have reservations for flights to Varadero and Santa Clara on or after September 5 will receive a refund, Southwest said.