Trip from U.S. to Cuba flies into his­tory

1st com­mer­cial flight in 55 years lands amid thaw

Baltimore Sun - - WORLD - By Michael Weissenstein

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.

RAMON ESPINOSA/AP

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