Maiden commercial flight from US to Cuba takes off
Cuba and the US took the latest step in their efforts to boost ties on Wednesday, when the first regular commercial flight from America to the communist-ruled island in more than 50 years took off.
JetBlue Flight 386 left Fort Lauderdale in southeastern Florida shortly after 10:00 am (1400 GMT) with 150 passengers on board. After less than an hour in the air, it will land in central Cuba’s Santa Clara, 280km east of Havana. The flight is the first of dozens of daily trips connecting US cities to nine Cuban airports, many of them in or near tourism hotspots. Regular air service was severed during the Cold War, and charter flights have been the only air links since.
"It's a new day for Cuba travelers and one we have thoughtfully prepared for. We are proud to usher in a new era of Cuba travel with affordable fares and great service," JetBlue's executive vice-president Marty St George said.
The Fort Lauderdale airport was in a full party mode near Jet Blue's departure area – a live salsa band blared Cuban favorites as passengers and bystanders broke into spontaneous dances. There were cheers, applause and a sea of balloons as boarding for the historic flight got underway.
For some, there were also tears of joy. "I am so proud, so overcome with emotion," said Domingo Santana, 53, who left Cuba when he was just six years old. Since then, he said, "I've never been in my country. I don't know my country," adding: "It's a great opportunity." Wednesday’s JetBlue flight will be flown by Captain Mark Luaces and First Officer Francisco Barreras, both Americans of Cuban descent, the airline said.