One of the longest direct flights out of Havana’s José Martí International Airport will soon be to an unlikely destination: Helsinki, Finland.
Finnair is scheduled to fly two weekly round-trip flights between Helsinki and Havana from Dec. 1 to March 23.
At first glance it’s not clear why Finland’s largest airline would throw support behind the intercontinental route. Finland sent fewer tourists to Cuba in 2016 than at least 26 other countries, according to Cuba’s National Office of Information and Statistics (ONEI). Commercial trade between the two countries is also so low that Finland wasn’t even mentioned in ONEI’s 2016 trade report. Cuba and Finland have diplomatic ties, but it’s unlikely either considers the other to be one of its strongest allies. Cold War-era ties are also unlikely since Finland never came under the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence.
So why is Finnair offering the only direct flight from a Nordic country to Havana?
“Having a direct route always adds to the interest of a destination,” said Finnair spokesperson Manti Väätäinen-Pereira. “Havana is also a very trendy destination now among Nordic travelers. There is both demand from individual travelers and tour operator passengers.”
“It’s all group travel demand,” said Mike Boyd, an aviation consultant and president of Boyd Group International. Boyd predicted the Helsinki-Havana route’s primary customers will be people from northeastern Europe who buy all-inclusive Cuba travel packages, similar to trips offered by Canada’s Sunwing and the U.K.’s Thomas Cook.
Boyd added that Cuba might have more appeal to Nordic people than some other Caribbean destinations because of its social and political uniqueness. “People travel to Punta Cana to see a Caribbean beach. People travel to Cuba to see Cuba,” he said.
Väätäinen-Pereira said tickets have been on sale since spring, and so far there has been “good interest towards this destination from our markets.” Most of the demand is from Finland, but there is also interest from areas such as the Baltics, Scandinavia, Russia, and Germany.
Väätäinen-Pereira said there has been very little demand for the flight from Cuba. Boyd doesn’t expect demand for the route to grow among Cubans since most people on the island can’t afford overseas travel. Cubans with enough money to buy plane tickets are unlikely to spend it on a trip to Finland, he added.
Finnair will operate the Helsinki-Havana route with the recently introduced Airbus A350, making it one of the largest and newest planes to serve Cuba. The Boeing 777 and Airbus A330 planes are among the largest planes currently making stops in Havana. Väätäinen-Pereira said the Finnair flights will have 297 seats in total, with 46 in business and 251 in economy.