An airline executive talks of challenges of flying to Cuba

How will U.S. carriers expand in Cuba? Photo: RiveraNotario via Flickr/Creative Commons.

How will U.S. carriers expand in Cuba? Photo: RiveraNotario via Flickr/Creative Commons.

Will Cuba be a gold mine for U.S. airlines?

This is a question I try to answer in the current edition of Aviation Week magazine. Unfortunately, the story is for subscribers only. But here's the cliff notes version. Few analysts believe airlines will make a lot of money in Cuba in the near future, even if the U.S. begins to allow regular tourists to visit the island and airlines are permitted to start scheduled service. One major problem? Cuba has a major shortage of hotel rooms. And the ones that exist aren't particularly nice. 

I asked WestJet Airlines executive vice president Bob Cummings about his airline's experience in Cuba. WestJet flies to Cayo Santa Maria, Holguin, Cayo Coco and Varadero. 

Here are some of his answers:

On his advice for U.S. airlines. U.S. carriers fly to various countries around the world. I don't think this is going to be a big stretch. With respect to the local baggage handling and the local airports unique ways of doing business in Cuba, with a lot of that, [U.S. airlines] would have come across variations of it in lots of other countries. 

On where Americans will stay. It will be interesting. I don't perceive there to be a ton of capacity, hotel room wise. There's obvious peaks and off peaks. But it will be interesting with respect to how the capacity ramps up on the Cuban side. 

On whether U.S. airlines are prepared. They are all savvy. It's not as if they are going to go in and learn some hard lessons. 

On what's different in Cuba. There were a few nuances the first season or two. Cuba was one of our more unique countries to fly into with respect to doing business. 

On whether he wanted to expand on some of the challenges in Cuba. No. But I did a wireless [phone] startup in Romania. It reminded me a lot of that.