CLEVELAND, Ohio - U.S. airlines, finally permitted to start regular nonstop flights to Cuba late last year, are already scaling back service to the island because demand isn't as high as anticipated.
Frontier Airlines announced last month that it was exiting the Cuba market in early June, just six months after it began. Other airlines, including JetBlue and American, are scaling back on the number of flights and size of planes to the island nation.
Just last summer, most major U.S. airlines were vying for permission from the U.S. Department of Transportation to fly to Cuba, part of a years-long easing of tensions between the two countries during the Obama presidency.
Dave Hershberger, a Cincinnati travel agent who specializes in Cuba travel, said airlines likely over anticipated demand in a rush to get a foot in the door of the new market. Even with the new nonstop flights, he said, travel to Cuba remains tricky.
"There are still a lot of restrictions in place, criteria you have to meet," said Hershberger, owner of Cincinnati's Prestige Travel Leaders. "You cannot freely travel to Cuba."
The U.S. government, for example, still requires that travelers to Cuba fall into one of 12 categories of permissible travel, including family travel, people-to-people educational travel, professional research, government business and others.
Hanging out on a beach at an all-inclusive resort doesn't qualify, he said.
Because of the bureaucracy, it's also expensive to travel to Cuba, said Hershberger, compared to, say, the Bahamas.
Hershberger said he has fielded many calls from travelers who are interested in traveling to Cuba. The number of people who actually go, however, is much smaller.
Even so, he said, he expects that demand for travel to Cuba will continue to grow - though that could change, depending on whether the new Trump administration makes any changes in the evolving U.S.-Cuba relationship.
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