Sun Country Airlines, which recently won permission to start two routes from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to Cuba, wants more time before it starts flying them.
Sun Country last month asked the U.S. Department of Transportation to push back the start date of the routes to December 2017. The Mendota Heights-based airline had been expected to start flying the routes — between MSP and the Cuban cities of Santa Clara and Matanzas — as soon as March.
The airline currently offers service between St. Thomas and Minneapolis-St. Paul.
“Given the continued travel and trade embargo constraints with Cuba, our request to start service at a later date is to ensure our customers will have an easy and enjoyable experience when traveling to Cuba on Sun Country Airlines,” Kelsey Dodson-Smith, Sun Country’s marketing chief, said via email Thursday.
In its filing with the DOT, Sun Country said it hopes to mitigate the barriers from the trade embargo and overcome some operational challenges in the Cuban destinations, which are smaller and less well-known than the capital of Havana.
The airline is particularly strong in leisure travel and, during winter, raises the number of flights to warm-weather destinations from Midwest markets.
Santa Clara is the capital of the Villa Clara province in central Cuba and Matanzas is capital of the Matanzas province on the country’s north coast, close to the resort town of Varadero and about 65 miles from Havana.
Over the decades that Americans were forbidden from visiting Cuba, Varadero became a destination for European, Canadian and South American tourists.
Sun Country was one of six U.S. airlines to be awarded routes by the DOT earlier this year, a step that came after the U.S. government restored diplomatic relations with Cuba in 2014.
Delta Air Lines, the dominant operator at Minneapolis-St. Paul, won permission to fly to Havana from Atlanta, Miami and New York, and started the daily service on Dec. 1.
Delta sought no routes to Cuba from Minnesota. Atlanta is the airline’s headquarters and biggest hub, while Miami has the largest Cuban-American population in the U.S. and New York the second-largest.