People are starting to travel again. And while the numbers are, unsurprisingly, not what they were at the beginning of last year, there seems to be growing optimism in the travel industry — particularly the all-important aviation sector, with increased vaccination and improving case trends.
That includes American Airlines, which is still operating more flights to the Caribbean than any other airline, even amid the pandemic.
So what’s next for the world’s largest airline in the Caribbean?
To learn more, Caribbean Journal talked to Jose Freig, managing director for Latin America and the Caribbean for American Airlines, about the company’s new alliance with JetBlue, its new destinations in the Caribbean and the islands that are performing the strongest right now.
What does American’s Caribbean network look like right now?
Since launching our Caribbean operation 50 years ago, American has come a long way in the region. Today we are proud to be the leading airline in the Caribbean, operating more flights to more destinations than any other carrier. We are currently operating up to 131 daily flights to 27 destinations, increasing to 32 in April as we resume additional flying in the region.
Which destinations in AA’s Caribbean network are seeing the most traffic?
We’re seeing a lot of demand to San Juan (SJU) and St. Thomas (STT). In the fall and early winter there was a lot of demand for visiting friends and relatives in Santo Domingo (SDQ), Santiago (STI), Port-au-Prince (PAP), and Havana (HAV).
Are there any Caribbean destinations that have performed better than expected amid the pandemic?
Leisure destinations in the Dominican Republic have performed well through the fall and early winter; and looking ahead, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and the USVI stand out as strong performers for the spring/summer.
What impact will the new JetBlue alliance have on your Caribbean network and operations?
American and JetBlue are committed to our partnership, which will create long-term value for team members and customers and provide enhanced competition in the Northeast. For American, the partnership will lead to growth, more choice for our customers and more opportunities for our team members. The ability to expand means long-term growth for American in New York, including expanded long-haul international service to new markets and support for future jobs as demand rebounds. The JetBlue partnership will enable us to weather the COVID-19 pandemic and be in a stronger position in the Northeast as demand improves.
As part of our codeshare relationship, American’s customers will have access to 49 codeshare routes on JetBlue, while JetBlue customers will have access to more than 25 routes on American out of New York (JFK, LGA and EWR) and Boston (BOS). We’re currently evaluating the inclusion of our international routes to our codeshare, including the Caribbean. More Northeast markets and international routes will be added regularly throughout the first half of this year.
Are there any suspended routes (particularly in the French Caribbean) that you’re likely to resume soon?
In April, we are looking forward to resuming our operation from our Miami hub to Bonaire (BON), Trinidad (POS), Martinique (FDF), Grand Cayman (GCM) and Guadeloupe (PTP), which have been suspended since 2020 due to COVID-19 government restrictions.
AA recently added another new destination in the Dominican Republic, Samana. Why are you bullish on that destination and the DR in general?
The Dominican Republic has been strong throughout the pandemic. In looking at new opportunities in the DR, Samana stood out since it’s not served from the United States and as the leader in the Caribbean, we wanted to provide this opportunity for our customers. It’s an adventure and eco-tourism destination that has secluded beaches and is less crowded than other destinations in the Dominican Republic. People are looking to travel to locations where they can be outside and distanced from others and Samana provides this.
What’s your outlook for the rest of 2021 and into 2022 in the Caribbean?
This year we are proud to celebrate our 50th anniversary in the Caribbean, a source of pride for American as it’s a testament to our commitment to the many communities we serve and to our incredible team in the region. This summer, we plan to further increase our footprint in the Caribbean, launching our 33rd destination, Samaná, connecting with Charlotte (CLT) seasonally. Additionally, starting in June, we will launch new routes from New York-JFK to Providenciales (PLS) and St. Lucia (UVF) as well as from Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) to UVF and St. Maarten (SXM). Since 1971, American’s commitment to the Caribbean has never wavered and we look forward to further deepening our ties to this incredible region that we are proud to call home.