After 55 years of interruption, Cuba and the United States on Wednesday re-established regular commercial direct flights, marking a concrete step in thawing ties between the former Cold War foes.
[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]T[/dropcap]he JetBlue Airways plane took off Wednesday morning from Fort Lauderdale, Florida with 150 passengers on board and arrived at Abel Santamaria International Airport in the central city of Santa Clara shortly before 11 a.m. local time.
Among the passengers are U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, airline executives as well as Cuban Americans.
The entire flight took about an hour but inaugurated a new stage in bilateral ties and provided a new way for families from both shores to reunite frequently.
After landing, the Airbus A320 received traditional water-cannon salute that greets special flights on the tarmac.
HISTORIC FLIGHT IN OVER 50 YEARS
[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]”T[/dropcap]his first flight is definitely historic and it’s a good way for Cuban-Americans to reconnect with our families in the island, learn from our past and visit incredible sights in this beautiful country,” Yara Erosa, a passenger on the plane, told Xinhua.
Emotions were running high for this 42-year-old Orlando resident who will meet her cousins and uncles in her very first trip to Cuba.
“It’s important for us to know about our heritage and roots. I will visit as many places as possible in Santa Clara, the city where my parents were born,” she said.
The restart of commercial travel between the two countries is one of the most important steps of President Barack Obama’s two-year-old policy of normalizing relations with the island and will leave a significant impact on the large Cuban community living in that country.
“This is one of the most visible examples of the president’s activities to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba,” Foxx told reporters.
[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]F[/dropcap]oxx, the first to disembark the flight, was greeted by Cuban Deputy Transportation Minister Eduardo Rodriguez and airport staff before heading to Havana to meet with other Cuban officials.
Meanwhile, JetBlue executives were “thrilled” to be the first airline to fly into a Cuban airport for regular commercial flights after more than half a century.
Robin Hayes, JetBlue chief executive officer, said, “Cuba has been our most talked about destination for some time and we are thrilled to be the first U.S. airline to Cuba with commercial service and our purpose is also to be the best airline.”
JetBlue has been operating charter flights to Cuba for five years, making it the natural choice for the inaugural flight.
“We want to build a solid and lasting relationship with Cuba’s civil aviation authorities and at the same time expand our presence in the Cuban market,” Hayes added.
LOW COST, MULTIPLE DESIGNATIONS
JetBlue will now fly three times a week to Santa Clara until Oct. 29 before scheduling a daily flight.
[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]T[/dropcap]he low-cost carrier offers one-way fares to Cuba starting at 99 U.S. dollars and round-trip fares at around 210 dollars, including taxes and health insurance required by the Cuban government. The round-way fare is almost 250 dollars less than the standard charter flights that have flown to the island for decades.
Other carriers, including American Airlines, Frontier Airlines, Silver Airways, Southwest Airlines and Sun Country Airlines, will begin flying in coming months to Cuban destinations such as Holguin, Camaguey, Cienfuegos, Santa Clara and renowned beach resort Varadero.
“This is a big first step because U.S. airlines can once again have regular commercial flights to numerous cities in Cuba connecting a broad community with its roots and bringing thousands of Americans to the island,” said Ian Deason, vice president of airport operations at JetBlue.
Deason said the company “highly values” the Cuban market as one of the most important destinations it has in the Caribbean.
“We’re offering flights to Cuba with competitive prices which will definitely have an impact on the Cuban people,” he said.
Also on Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Transportation finalized its selection of eight U.S. airlines to operate scheduled flights to Havana as early as this fall.
AMERICANS BANNED TO VISIT AS TOURISTS
However, restrictions still apply for U.S. citizens to freely travel to the island.
[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]U.[/dropcap]S. laws bars its citizens from traveling to Cuba as tourists, but they can apply to travel there under 12 narrowly defined categories, including family visits, educational or religious activities, and humanitarian projects.
U.S. visitors to the island have increased substantially since both nations declared detente in their relations in December 2014 and formally restored diplomatic ties in July 2015.
Over 94,000 Americans had arrived in Cuba in the first four months of this year.
Despite an existing U.S. trade embargo, the resumed regular commercial flights between the two countries are expected to bring more wealth and opportunities to the Caribbean country.
Notes: Xinhua-(This story has not been edited by PGurus.com and is generated from a syndicated feed we subscribe to)
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