American airline companies have been ready to provide service to Cuba for years; all they are waiting for is Congress to lift the embargo, former American Airlines CEO Bob Crandall told CNBC Thursday.
While President Barack Obama announced the expansion of travel into Cuba as part of his plan to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba, unrestricted travel by tourists will still take an act of Congress, Crandall explained.
“When that happens … there are a lot of companies that are cued up to provide frequent service to Cuba, and I expect there will sort of be an air bridge. There’ll be a lot of service by a lot of different companies lots of time a day,” he said an interview with “Squawk on the Street.”
It’s estimated that about 500,000 Americans traveled to Cuba in 2013. The process to do so has been an arduous one. Travelers have to go through a company, a church or an arts institution to get People-to-People licenses and have to obtain government permission through the Treasury Department. However, with the new policy, that process should now become easier, with travelers obtaining a general license to travel.
However, “to really free up the flow of travel, Congress has to lift the embargo that exists today,” Crandall said.
When that happens, he is unconcerned about the influx of American tourists to Cuba scaring off other travelers.
“I don’t think the fact that there are going to be more people going to Cuba is going to discourage people from around the world want to see Cuba. Cuba has very attractive assets of many kinds.”
He also thinks Cuba “in due course will be an active center of business in the Caribbean.”
As for the overall airline industry, Crandall predicted it will be “satisfactorily profitable” for many years thanks not only to low fuel prices but consolidation that has eliminated “extreme competition.”