The first scheduled flight from the United States to Cuba in over 50 years left Fort Lauderdale, Florida, at 9:45 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 31. The flight was the first scheduled passenger jet service in history between the two countries. The JetBlue service is seen as an important step toward normalizing relations with the former Cold War enemy and promises to ease travel and commerce restrictions in the future.
One passenger, Erik Díaz Oliva, described his reaction to flying to his home country after eight years away.
“I got here at 5 a.m. and was the first to check in; everyone started to cheer!” Mr. Díaz said. “To the people who say these flights don’t help: Yes, it does help. It opens Cuba to the world.”
The renewal of airline services was only the latest in a series of moves on both sides since President Obama’s 2014 decision to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba. Embassies have reopened and direct mail service has been restored, despite the U.S. embargo still being in place.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx was among the inaugural flight’s 150 passengers, along with some two dozen journalists and various dignitaries. Said the secretary, “Today opens the door to further exchange between the American people and the Cuban people. We think that’s ultimately good for the expansion of freedom and democracy.”
The DOT has confirmed the agreement to allow up to 90 daily round-trip flights, with 6 airlines having been approved for 9 Cuban destinations outside Havana.
Foxx stated that many more airlines than could be accommodated had applied for the Havana run. The approved carriers include Alaska Airlines, American, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit, and United Airlines. The flights will originate from Atlanta, Georgia; Charlotte, North Carolina; Houston; Los Angeles; Miami; Newark; New York; Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, and Tampa, Florida.
The DOT Secretary also acknowledged Cuba’s need to improve airport infrastructure in order to handle the major increase in passenger traffic.