On Wednesday, the first regularly scheduled commercial flight between the U.S. and Cuba in over 55 years successfully arrived in Santa Clara, marking a new chapter in the Obama administration’s effort to open trade and travel with the former Cold War foe.
The historic JetBlue Flight 387 flight departed Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Wednesday morning and arrived in Santa Clara—located east of the Cuba’s capital, Havana—in an estimated 51 minutes. This is the latest example of how communist country and the U.S. are attempting to normalize relations after decades of insolation.
Among the passengers on the 150-seat Airbus A320 was U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes, news reporters and photographers and other officials. Regular travelers, including some of Cuban descent, occupied nearly half the seats on the inaugural flight.
A ceremonial water cannon salute showered the jetliner before it departed Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, and Cuban dignitaries at Abel Santamaría Airport greeted the flight upon its arrival.
After landing in Santa Clara and receiving a second ceremonial water canon shower from Cuban fire engines, Foxx was first to disembark the flight and was greeted by an airport full of onlookers and airport employees waving American and Cuban flags.
According to USA Today, Hayes presented Cuban officials with a model airplane, and a city official presented him with a painting of Santa Clara. They shared a toast to future flights and thanked each other for the months of work to re-establish the flights.
“This is just the beginning,” Hayes said. “I look forward to growing our service here in the years to come.”
José Ramón Cabañas, the Cuban ambassador to the U.S., said reaching this point required months of negotiations between U.S. transportation and security officials and their counterparts in Cuba. “Today is another historic day,” said Cabañas. “And we have been saying that phrase many times during the last months.”
“Today’s actions are the result of months of work by airlines, cities, the US government, and many others toward delivering on President Obama’s promise to reengage with Cuba,” echoed Foxx. “Transportation has a unique role in this historic initiative and we look forward to the benefits these new services will provide to those eligible for Cuba travel.”
After 18 months of negotiations, President Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro announced in December 2014 that the U.S. and Cuba were to start working on re-establishing diplomatic relations between the longtime adversaries. Relations between the countries became hostile five decades ago when Fidel Castro overthrew U.S.-supported dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959, resulting in a revolution that lead to Cuba becoming a communist country and a Soviet Union ally.
Much progress has been made between Cuba and the U.S. since the 2014 agreement, including officials re-opening embassies in Washington and Havana and U.S. businesses signing new deals with the communist island.
Although the Obama administration has renewed ties with Cuba, a travel ban remains in effect for Americans visiting the island as tourists unless they fall under one of 12 categories of “authorized travel,” including educational, religious and humanitarian reasons. Furthermore, before U.S. citizens can board flights to Cuba, they are required to sign an affidavit swearing their travel falls within one of the 12 permitted conditions.
Despite the restrictions, the U.S. Department of Transportation said several other U.S. airlines will soon follow JetBlue’s lead of offering direct flights to the communist-run country via their own routes as early as this fall, including: Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Frontier Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines and United Airlines.
The department further said that there may soon be a maximum of 110 daily flights operated by American carriers to Cuban cities from U.S. airports located in Atlanta, Charlotte, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark, New York City, Orlando and Tampa.