For the first time in more than half a century, a scheduled, commercial passenger flight has travelled from the United States to Cuba.
After years of turbulence between the Cold War foes, the JetBlue Airbus A320 flight from Fort Lauderdale, Florida on Wednesday marks one more landmark in the countries’ improving relationship.
US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, JetBlue Chief Executive Officer Robin Hayes, other officials and journalists were aboard the 150-seat plane. Regular travellers, including some of Cuban descent, occupied nearly half the seats on the journey to the central city of Santa Clara on the communist-ruled island.
Cuba and the United States began normalising relations in December 2014 after 18 months of secret talks and have since restored full diplomatic ties.
The countries had been hostile for more than five decades, since Fidel Castro ousted US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista in a 1959 revolution that steered the island on a communist course and made it a close ally of the Soviet Union.
Until Wednesday, passenger air links between Cuba and the United States were by chartered flights.
US citizens are still prohibited from visiting as tourists, although there have long been exceptions to the ban, ranging from visiting family to business, cultural, religious and educational travel. The Obama administration has further eased the restrictions.
And with diplomatic ties restored, US Secretary of State John Kerry noted on Twitter that the flight took place just over a year after the raising of the flag at the reopened US embassy in Havana.
He called it “another step forward.”
8/31/2016:The 1st US commercial flight to #Cuba since 1961, just over a year after raising the flag at US Embassy Havana. Another step fwd.— John Kerry (@JohnKerry) 31 août 2016
President Barack Obama’s opening to Cuba has included a landmark visit by him to the Caribbean island in March and a series of measures to increase commercial ties, but the US leader has been unable to persuade Congress to lift the longstanding embargo.
Take a look back at another historic flight when Air Force One touched down in Cuba for the first time ever: https://t.co/nqzIJWmDD0— The White House (@WhiteHouse) 31 août 2016