When JetBlue Flight 387 landed in the central Cuban city of Santa Clara just after 11 AM on Wednesday morning, it became the first commercial flight from the United States to land on the island in over 50 years.
It's yet another historic step forward in the ongoing diplomatic thaw between the two nations, and marks a turning point in what had, for decades, been a complex and onerous process for any American interested in visiting Cuba.
Departing out of Ft. Lauderdale, FL at 9:45AM, the flight was packed with journalists and dignitaries, including U.S. Transportation secretary Anthony Foxx, who tweeted about his excitement over the trip on Monday.
Passengers aboard the flight were treated to a special ribbon cutting ceremony, and live music as they boarded the airplane.
Speaking with CBS ahead of takeoff, First Officer Frank Barreras said: “I think it’s going to be an emotional moment for all of us. I never thought this day would come in my lifetime. It’s an amazing, amazing time."
Barreras' father reportedly fled Cuba to the U.S. on one of the last commercial flights available before the two nations suspended nearly all ties.
In an interview with ABC affiliate Local 10 News, passenger Erik Diaz, a Cuban immigrant who landed in Florida by boat eight years ago, explained the significance of the flight.
I'm pretty excited. I'm coming back after eight years without seeing my family," Diaz told the station. "I got my kids. I got my mom, grandma, sisters — all that."
One way tickets for JetBlue's historic flight started at $99, and include Cuban government-required health insurance, according to a release put out by the airline when the historic flight was announced in July. Speaking with the New York Times, JetBlue executive vice president Marty St. George pointed out that the last time a regularly scheduled commercial flight left the United States for Cuba, it was on a propellor plane in 1961.
"We do think it’s an important part of history,” St. George told the paper. “From a challenge perspective, we know the drill. Cuba has some unique elements because of 50 years of history between the U.S. and Cuba, but we’re ready to go.”
While JetBlue is the first commercial airline to touch down in Cuba, other companies are reportedly scrambling to add U.S.-Cuban service to their schedules. According to NBC News, American Airlines will offer flights beginning on September 7, with eight other airlines to follow.
Which isn't to say hopping a flight from Florida to Havana is going to be a free-for-all. While the thawing diplomatic relationship between the U.S. and Cuba has opened up avenues closed for the last five decades, travel to Cuba is restricted to twelve types, including religious activity, journalistic pursuits, visiting family, and official government business. Straightforward tourism is still, for the time being, banned, pending further congressional action.
In the hours before flight 387 took off from Florida, José Ramón Cabañas, Cuba's ambassador to the United States, tweeted a picture of what awaited the passengers upon their arrival in Santa Clara:
When the plane landed, it was reportedly treated with a shower similar to the send off it received as it departed Florida earlier in the day.
JetBlue will reportedly begin offering flight 387 as a daily route on October 1.