New Delhi: A JetBlue Flight 387 landed in Santa Clara, Cuba on Wednesday, becoming the first scheduled commercial flight between United States and Cuba in last five decades.
The flight from Fort Lauderdale landed in central Cuba on Wednesday morning, ending decades long isolation between the Cold War foes.
JetBlue Flight 387 took off at 10:06 am local time from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with tourists, journalists and US authorities, including Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, on board, an event broadcast live by US English and Spanish-language media.
The 220-seat Airbus A320's arrival in Cuba marks a new milestone in the diplomatic thaw between the former Cold War enemies, which in December 2014 announced the start of the process of normalising relations.
The plane landed in Santa Clara ahead of schedule despite a 20-minute delay in Fort Lauderdale and, just as occurred at take-off, was greeted with a ceremonial water cannon salute.
“The last time there were scheduled flights to Cuba, if you wanted to buy a ticket, you had to go to a ticket office. You’d fly to Cuba on a propeller plane,” said JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes before the flight departed. “So it just shows how in 55 years things have changed.”
Nine other airlines have been given the clearance to fly to and from airports owned by the former rivals.
The Cuban ambassador to the US, Jose Ramon Cabanas, said reaching this point required months of negotiations between the two countries.
“Today is another historic day,” he said. “And we have been saying that phrase many times during the last months.”
The Wednesday's direct flight to Cuba was the first of 110 daily round-trip flights authorised in 2016 by the US Department of Transportation, which also gave American Airlines, Frontier Airlines, Silver Airways, Southwest Airlines and Sun Country Airlines permission to provide service to nine cities on the Communist-ruled Island.
No flights to Havana were authorised because the amount of requests exceeded the number of slots agreed by the two governments.
American citizens may travel to Cuba if their trip falls under one of the 12 US government-authorised categories, including family visits and those related to cultural, journalistic and professional activities.
But tourist visits to the Caribbean island by American citizens are still prohibited under the 54-year-old US economic embargo on the island, which only Congress can lift.