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Alaska Airlines is ending flights to Cuba

Alaska flight to Havana
A Cuban flag is propped up on an seat in Alaska Airlines’ jet for the carrier’s inaugural flight to Havana in January 2017. (Alaska Airlines Photo via Twitter)

Less than a year after Alaska Airlines began daily flights to Cuba amid a burst of red-white-and-blue fanfare, the Seattle-based airline says it’ll end them in January.

Alaska said demand for the flights to Havana has faded after an initial burst of interest.

“Travel is about making connections, and we were honored to have played a role in helping people make personal connections by traveling between the U.S. and Cuba,” Andrew Harrison, chief commercial officer for Alaska Airlines, said today in a news release. “We continually evaluate every route we fly to ensure we have the right number of seats to match the number of people who want to go there.”

The Trump administration’s shift in policy toward Cuba was a contributing factor. Earlier this year, President Donald Trump tightened restrictions on business dealings, and last week, travel requirements were changed to rule out individual “people-to-people” educational travel to Cuba from the U.S.

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Alaska Airlines kicks off daily flights to Havana

Alaska flight to Havana
A Cuban flag is propped up on an seat in Alaska Airlines’ jet for the carrier’s inaugural flight to Havana. (Alaska Airlines Photo via Twitter)

For the first time in decades, passengers got on a jet at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport that could take them all the way to Cuba’s capital – albeit with a layover in Los Angeles.

Alaska Airlines’ Flight 286 set out from Sea-Tac at 5:10 a.m. today for the Seattle-based carrier’s inaugural commercial trip to Havana. Among the dignitaries on board: King County Executive Dow Constantine and Ana Mari Cauce, the University of Washington’s Cuban-born president.

The Boeing 737-900ER jet stopped at LAX to pick up additional passengers – and give Alaska an opportunity to indulge in some Latin-flavored celebration. Then the jet took off again for the four-hour-plus flight to Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport.

Flight 286 finished up the journey at 4:57 p.m. local time. After another flurry of fanfare in Havana, the jet turned around to make Flight 287 to LAX. It was due back in Seattle in the middle of the night.

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U.S. flights to Cuba begin; Alaska Air gets set

Image: JetBlue arrival in Cuba
Crew members at the Santa Clara Abel Santamaría International Airport in Cuba welcome JetBlue Flight 387, the first commercial flight to Cuba from the U.S. in 55 years. (Credit: Business Wire)

Seattle-based Alaska Airlines today won the federal government’s formal approval to fly between Los Angeles and Havana, on the same day that JetBlue made a historic flight to Cuba.

JetBlue’s Flight 387 from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to the central Cuban city of Santa Clara marked the first regularly scheduled commercial flight between the two countries since 1961.

The chill in air travel began after Cuba’s communist revolution, and warmed up last year when a deal was struck to let U.S. carriers make up to 110 daily round-trip flights to Cuban cities. Since then, the Transportation Department and U.S. airlines have been laying the groundwork for service to Cuba.

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Alaska wins OK to fly Seattle-L.A.-Havana route

Image: Cuban and U.S. flags
A woman in Miami flies Cuban and U.S. flags. (Credit: U.S. State Dept.)

The U.S. Department of Transportation today gave its tentative go-ahead for Alaska Airlines to fly between Los Angeles and Havana, the capital of Cuba, with extended service between L.A. and Seattle, the airline’s hometown.

Alaska said the Cuba-bound flights would be operated with a Boeing 737-900ER aircraft, capable of carrying 181 passengers. Each daily flight would begin in Seattle, then stop over in Los Angeles, with same-plane service continuing to Havana. The return flight would retrace that route.

The route is among 20 slots in Havana that were made available to U.S. carriers this year when the federal government signed an agreement with Cuba to restore regular commercial air travel between the two countries, after a gap of more than 50 years.

A dozen U.S. airlines applied for the slots, proposing a total of nearly 60 flights a day. Alaska was among eight airlines that were awarded the 20 available round-trip flights. Alaska said it was the only airline that proposed daily nonstop service from Los Angeles to Havana.

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