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The first ever commercial passenger flight to Cuba from the United States took off from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Wednesday morning, manned by a Miami-based captain whose parents were born in Cuba and a co-pilot whose family fled Castro’s revolution more than 50 years ago.
The one-hour-and-eight-minute historic JetBlue flight landed in the central Cuban city of Santa Clara just before 11 a.m., carrying a host of dignitaries such as U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, who tweeted:
"It's a new day for Cuba travelers," said Marty St. George, JetBlue's executive vice president, when the flight details were first announced last month. "We are proud to usher in a new era of Cuba travel with affordable fares and great service."
Jet Blue flight 387 will operate daily after October 1. Starting September 7, American Airlines will start its own inaugural flights to Cuba. A total of 10 U.S. airlines are set to add a Cuba route to their scheduling after receiving tentative permission.
José Ramón Cabañas, Cuban ambassador to the U.S., tweeted a photo of the celebration that awaited passengers upon arrival in Santa Clara:
One-way tickets start at $99 and although passengers no longer need to be vetted by the U.S. government, they must have a Cuban visa and medical insurance. Additionally, until Congress lifts the trade embargo that prevents Americans from visiting Cuba as tourists, travelers must fall into one of the 12 pre-approved categories such as journalist, academic, or visiting family members.
"Travel ... will build bridges between our people, and bring more revenue to those Cuban small businesses,” said President Barack Obama on his historic trip to Cuba in March, which was part of sweeping changes the White House has introduced over the last two years to restore relations between the two countries.
Since then, major U.S. cell phone carriers have announced service in Cuba, U.S.-based banks have issued credit cards that are valid in the Communist-ruled country, and American-owned hotel groups have opened luxury accommodations there.