AirTran Airways wants to be one of the first airlines to operate scheduled flights into Cuba if restrictions on tourism to the country are eased, chief executive Bob Fornaro says.
“It’s a very pretty country, and the curiosity level as well as the ethnic flying back and forth is going to be substantial,” Fornaro said Wednesday. AirTran is based in Orlando and has its largest hub in Atlanta.
President Barack Obama earlier this month lifted restrictions on Cuban-Americans’ visits to Cuba. If broader travel is also eventually allowed, “We’d like to be one of the first ones for scheduled flights, and certainly that would include Atlanta and probably other points in Florida as well,” Fornaro said. “I think a lot of airlines are going to have a lot of interest.”
Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines considers it premature to say if it would serve Cuba, “based on the fact that we don’t know how any changes would be structured in the future” for tourism, spokesman Kent Landers said.
AirTran has operated charter flights from Miami to Havana with tour operators in past years.
John Kavulich, senior policy advisor of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, warned that the opening of the Cuba market for U.S. tourism “is quite likely to be some time off.”
“It isn’t all about U.S. policy toward Cuba, it’s also about Cuba policy toward the United States,” he said.
If restrictions are lifted, being among the first carriers with scheduled flights into Cuba may not be easy.
“There’s a couple of things to consider with Cuba,” Fornaro said. “What’s the quality of facilities and the hotels? How much tourism can it take?”
He added, “a lot of development needs to occur.”