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Alaska Airlines To Discontinue Flights To Cuba

Alaska Airlines
Pilots waved flags in the cockpit before taking off on Alaska Airlines' inaugural flight to Havana, Cuba on January 5, 2017.

Alaska Airlines is saying "Adios" to Cuba. The Seattle-based airline Tuesday announced it will discontinue flights to Havana after the holidays. Alaska joins a parade of other U.S. carriers who are trimming back flights to Cuba or dropping service entirely.

Alaska Vice President for Capacity Planning and Alliances John Kirby said in an interview that he first noticed weakening demand and then the Trump administration reversed President Obama's liberalization on Cuba travel visas.

"Looking at the precipitous drop-off in bookings coupled with the fact that 80 percent of our traffic can no longer take advantage of the people-to-people education option, we just felt there were better opportunities for us,” Kirby said.

Alaska Airlines launched service on a Seattle-Los Angeles-Havana route with much fanfare last January. Alaska's last flight to Havana will depart on January 22, 2018, meaning the service to Cuba lasted just over a year.

The U.S. Treasury Department last week reimposed Cuba travel rules that basically make Americans join expensive, tightly-regulated group tours or have a valid business exemption.

Alaska Airlines said passengers who have reservations for travel to Havana after January 22 will be booked on another airline or offered a full refund.

Spirit Airlines, Frontier and Silver Air have also pulled out of Cuba, leaving American, Delta, JetBlue and Southwest as the main U.S. carriers flying reduced schedules to the Caribbean island.

Kirby said the anticipated pent-up demand for travel to Cuba materialized in the early going. Alaska's planes to Havana flew 80-90 percent full in the spring and early summer. But after July, the level of interest dropped precipitously.

"A severe hurricane season didn't help," Kirby added. "I think there was some evidence of confusion. It was difficult to figure out how to go."

Kirby said the Boeing 737 now assigned to the Cuba route will be redeployed to bolster capacity between Seattle and Orange County, California.

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.