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American Airlines Cuts Flights to Cuba

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The airline has been flying 11 flights a day to the island nation.

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The honeymoon for U.S. air travel to Cuba may be ending just after it began.

That was a takeaway last week after news that American Airlines will cut three of its 11 daily flights to the island nation. An article in USA Today indicated the carrier will pare its flights down to once daily between Miami and each of the Cuban cities of Holguin, Santa Clara, and Varadero, starting this February. 

American launched service to Cuba flying to each of those cities twice daily, as well as Havana four times a day from Miami and once daily from Charlotte, North Carolina. 

On paper—at least according to a piece in the Christian Science Monitor—the move is driven by simple economics; while demand to Havana is going strong, supply to secondary Cuban markets greatly outstripped demand, and American moved to recalibrate.

Still, considering that many airlines—including American—made their first commercial flights to the country at the end of November, the route-lightening raises questions about some of the broader challenges airlines might face building a long-term presence in Cuba overall.

One of the biggest potential pratfalls: an underdeveloped infrastructure. Reuters reported earlier this year that the country has just 63,000 hotel rooms and a limited number of rental cars.

Another possible challenge: political instability. While President Obama worked with the government of the late Fidel Castro to end a 52-year ban on travel to Cuba, President-elect Trump has threatened to close off relations with the country again, potentially jeopardizing any travel that U.S. visitors may have on the books already.

To be fair, the overall realities of U.S. air travel to Cuba look great. More than 110 daily flights were planned for the near future, and tourism has increased by 17.4 percent, hitting a record 3.52 million visitors in 2015. 

What’s more, forthcoming research from Airline Reporting Corp. indicates that Jose Marti International Airport in Havana represents the greatest growth (53 percent) in arriving travelers from 2015 to 2016.

Still, American’s evasive actions should serve as a bit of a reality check—for everyone involved.

Matt Villano is a freelance writer and editor based in Healdsburg, California. In nearly 20 years as a full-time freelancer, he has covered travel for publications including TIME, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Sunset, Backpacker, Entrepreneur, and more. He contributes to the Expedia Viewfinder blog and writes a monthly food column for Islands magazine. Villano also serves on the board of the Family Travel Association and blogs about family travel at Wandering Pod. Learn more about him at Whalehead.com.