With three daily flights seven days a week between Havana, Miami, Atlanta and New York, Delta Air lines is making its new debut in Cuba next December 1.
A few days ago Delta opened to the public its commercial office in Havana, and although they are no longer the only ones present in the Cuban capital – American Airline has just opened its office -, it is the only one of the eight airlines approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation to operate in Cuba that flew to the island before 1961. Delta is literally returning.
“We are proud of this,” the commercial manager for Central America and the Caribbean, José Zapata, said apropos this event.
Delta Air Lines has its venue on La Rampa, in Havana’s Vedado district, where reservations can be made and tickets can be bought in cash.
It is previewed that its flights will arrive through Terminal 3 of José Martí International Airport and the possibility of the company operating other destinations in Cuba is being studied.
Zapata commented to OnCuba that when they opened their office they didn’t expect the reception they have had. “We thought that a great deal of the tickets that were going to be sold would be only to Miami, but we are finding people who are going to Los Angeles, Denver, Iowa, even to Australia!”
“When we started making the market studies we were coming with the idea that 90 percent of the flights were going to be sold in the United States, we didn’t know there would be such a big local market, and we have become aware that there’s a very big opportunity. I believe we are going to satisfy an existing need,” he said.
Both he and Sarah M. Lora, general manager of Corporate Communications, insist on the advantage Atlanta represents because it is one of the world’s biggest connection hubs, “you can connect from there to more than 200 destinations. And for some time the airport has been undergoing what is called a Latinization, which implies that all the signs are available in Spanish, as well as assistance. We are very identified with that market.”
Atlanta offers connections to 80 percent of the most important business and pleasure markets in the United States in two and a half hours or less. Persons traveling from Cuba to Atlanta can be in New Orleans in an hour. No airline has so many direct points with just one connection,” the commercial manager adds.
What does Delta offer?
Sarah M. Lora: An airline goes way beyond taking persons from point A to point B. There are many things to be taken into account like people going happy, that they go well fed. People are interested in traveling, but they are interested in the experience of traveling. That’s what differentiates us, good aircraft, with good service, with fantastic people, with different things….
In addition to the personalized treatment there is the reliability of the operations, the fact that we have days of what we call perfect brand. We have the record in that. It is very important for all type of clients to not run the risk of their flight being canceled, for a pleasure of business trip.
Moreover, we are the airline with the largest WiFi fleet, something that’s very important for the millenarians.
What are Cuba’s attractions for Delta?
José Zapata: Five years ago we embarked on the mission of having a strong presence in Latin America. And we are achieving it. Five years ago we ranked fourth in seating capacity and last year we ranked second among all the U.S. airlines. In fact, our seating capacity between the United States and Latin America increased 40 percent.
Cuba is a very important market for us; it’s the largest Caribbean island and it’s part of the strategy to continue growing in the region.
The experience here has been very good. The office has always been full.
You have become associated with AirBnB that promotes accommodations in private homes. Are you interested in promoting that type of tourism in Cuba?
JZ: We have become associated with brands and products that are at the vanguard, among them AirBnB.
We are interested in tourism, but above all connecting families, the Cuban-American market is very big. The good thing we have is that our market is very well segmented: businesspeople, people who come on pleasure trips, who have a bigger income or a more moderate income, families…. We have for everyone.
Do you fear there will be a reversal in the decision to allow regular flights between the two countries with the change of government in the United States?
JZ: The elections have concluded, we have a new president…. We are very moved about starting to fly on December 1. Actually, one thing has nothing to do with the other.
SL: The topics that have to do with political positions are topics which we do not deal with as an airline because we really focus on our services independently of what the government is doing. We have to continue our programming and let the rest flow.
How do you assume the competition for this market? In recent months there has been a veritable drop in prices?
JZ: We have been flying for many years, and that’s not new at all. The prices continue being subject to supply and demand, and we adjust our prices according to that. Today the supply is big, there’s demand, and today’s price can change tomorrow.
We are not especially worried about his matter. Even so, we are always in the competition and we equal there where we think there is sense in equaling, we try to be competitive all the time.
SL: We are more interested in the differentiating factor, about how clients are treated. We focus not so much on the currency fluctuations and on supply and demand, but rather on maintaining high standards. And people tend to be loyal to this.
While the reopening of the regular flights was being negotiated there were politicians in the United States who put in doubt the safety of Cuban airports. As an airline, what is your opinion of the Cuban airport installations?
We are happy with what is available, we understand there are certain limitations, but based on the talks we have with the airports, that is going to change. There’s a plan for growth and change. We are going to be in Terminal 3, the international one. But we are very happy to have access to that already existing infrastructure.
The changes especially refer to all the problems with the trucks that move the baggage and those things, but they are being updated more and more equipment is being brought in.
Is there any possibility that Cubana de Aviación becomes one of the airlines associated to Delta?
Yes, that is something we are mutually assessing. We don’t know whether or not it will occur, but we are holding talks about that.