Trip from U.S. to Cuba flies into history
1st commercial flight in 55 years lands amid thaw
SANTA CLARA, Cuba — The first commercial flight between the United States and Cuba in more than a half-century landed in the central city of Santa Clara on Wednesday, re-establishing regular air service severed at the height of the Cold War.
Cheers broke out in the cabin of JetBlue flight 387 as the plane touched down. Passengers — mostly airline executives, U.S. government officials and journalists, with a sprinkling of CubanAmerican families and U.S. travelers — were given gift bags with Cuban cookbooks, commemorative luggage tags and Cuban flags.
The arrival opens a new era of U.S.-Cuba travel with about 300 flights a week Passengers wave U.S. and Cuban flags upon landing Wednesday in Santa Clara, Cuba. connecting the U.S. with an island cut off from most Americans by the 55-yearold trade embargo on Cuba and formal ban on U.S. citizens engaging in tourism on the island.
“Seeing the American airlines landing routinely around the island will drive a sense of openness, integration and normality. That has a huge psychological impact,” said Richard Feinberg, author of the new book “Open for Business: Building the New Cuban Economy.”
Also Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced the carriers selected to operate routes to Havana: Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines and United Airlines.
The carriers are obligated to begin flights within 90 days — right after Thanksgiving — but airlines may begin service earlier.
The department said carriers will serve the Cuban capital from Atlanta, Charlotte, N.C., Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark, N.J., New York City, Orlando and Tampa, Fla.
The restart of commercial travel between the countries is one of the most important steps in President Barack Obama’s twoyear-old policy of normalizing relations with the island.
Secretary of State John Kerry said on Twitter that the last commercial flight was in 1961.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes both addressed passengers on board the 150-seat Airbus A320. Airline executives changed from American business attire into loose-fitting Cuban-style guayabera shirts before landing.
“This is one of the most visible examples of the president’s activities to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba,” Foxx said.
U.S. travel to Cuba is on track to triple this year to more than 300,000 visitors in the wake of the 2014 declaration of detente.
Americans who fit one of 12 categories will now be able to fill out a federal affidavit by clicking a box on an online form and, in many cases, buy their Cuban tourist visa near the check-in counters of U.S. airports.
Within weeks, Americans will be able to fly direct from cities including Chicago, Philadelphia and Minneapolis, Miami and Fort Lauderdale to eight Cuban cities and two beach resorts.