Travelers across the country rejoiced last summer when U.S.-based airline carriers re-established service to Cuba after a hiatus of more than 50 years. Airlines seemed excited, too, battling each other to line up dozens of flights—over 100 in all—from various origination points in the United States to various destination spots in the Caribbean island nation.
So why aren’t more Americans heading down?
News outlets have been asking this question in recent weeks after data indicate that carriers may have overestimated traveler interest to get from here to there. This month alone, JetBlue announced it will be using smaller planes to match lower-than-expected demand. Late last year, American Airlines cut daily flights by 25 percent. A smaller airline, Silver Airways, also slashed its schedule, reducing the number of flights to six of its nine destinations in Cuba.
Still, other airlines have dropped prices precipitously, in some cases slashing ticket prices by as much as 50 percent. If you’re looking to fly to Cuba on the cheap, both JetBlue and Southwest now have fares from the United States for less than $60.
An article on Bloomberg explained that there are a number of reasons for this scale-back.
For starters, the piece says, airlines were simply overzealous, creating a supply of flights that far exceeded demand. Perhaps more important: The American embargo remains in place, which means that unencumbered tourism to Cuba technically still is prohibited. The article notes that most visitors circumvent this law by participating in “people-to-people” exchanges, one of the categories authorizing travel under U.S. Treasury regulations. Still, technically, American tourism to Cuba is illegal.
Anecdotes from Americans traveling to Cuba indicate that finances also have become a limiting factor. Because of the embargo, most American credit-card companies won’t do business in Cuba, so on-the-ground financial transactions for American citizens can be difficult unless they carry wads of cash.
Finally, a number of recent articles suggest that airlines aren’t running promotions for Cuba flights. A recent video from USA Today went so far as to say this, straight up—that airlines have the flights but they’re not advertising them because of the embargo and the lack of a tourism infrastructure.
However you look at the dwindling numbers, the situation certainly is perplexing. If you’ve been waiting to commit to the Cuba trip of your dreams, perhaps now is the time to do it—before it’s too late.
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