Fri | Oct 20, 2017

Historic commercial flight from US lands

Published:Thursday | September 1, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Two passengers deplane from JetBlue flight 387 waving a United States and Cuban national flag in Santa Clara, Cuba, yesterday.

SANTA CLARA, Cuba (AP):

The first commercial flight between the United States and Cuba in more than a half century landed in the central city of Santa Clara yesterday morning, 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, US government officials and journalists, with a sprinkling of Cuban-American families and US travellers were given gift bags with Cuban cookbooks, commemorative luggage tags and Cuban flags, which they were encouraged to wave.

The arrival opens a new era of US-Cuba travel with about 300 flights a week connecting the US with an island cut off from most Americans by the 55-year-old trade embargo on Cuba and formal ban on US citizens engaging in tourism on the island.

 

SENSE OF OPENNESS

 

"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.

The restart of commercial travel between the two countries is one of the most important steps in President Barack Obama's two-year-old policy of normalising relations with the island. Historians disagree on the exact date of the last commercial flight but it appears to have been after Cuba banned incoming flights during the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

Secretary of State John Kerry said on Twitter that the last commercial flight was in 1961.

US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes both addressed passengers on-board the 150-seat Airbus A320, which was staffed by a specially selected five-member crew of Cuban-Americans.

"This is one of the most visible examples of the president's activities to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba," Foxx said.