SANTA CLARA, Cuba, Thursday September 1, 2016 – JetBlue made history yesterday when it touched down in Santa Clara, Cuba, becoming the first US airline to operate a commercial flight between the two countries in more 50 years. JetBlue flight 387 from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport landed at Abel Santamaría Airport with 150 passengers just before 11 a.m. local time.
The flight ushered in a new era of air travel to Cuba, and comes after months of collaboration between JetBlue, US officials, Cuban officials and business partners to resume air service between the two countries.
“We are proud to be the first US airline to serve Cuba, but our focus is on being the best airline serving Cuba,” said Robin Hayes, president and chief executive officer, JetBlue. “This historic flight symbolizes our long-term commitment to provide affordable, award-winning service between Cuba and the US. For the first time in decades, families separated by only a short stretch of water can easily and affordably visit a loved one, attend an important occasion or visit a special place – and the role we play speaks directly to our mission of inspiring humanity.”
— JetBlue Airways (@JetBlue) August 31, 2016
Hayes, along with JetBlue leadership, government officials from both nations, dignitaries and the first customers, were welcomed in Santa Clara with a water canon salute and a celebration by Cuban officials at the airport located some 160 miles east of Havana.
The occasion marked not only the first US scheduled commercial flight since the 1960s, but also the first time an American carrier has operated a scheduled commercial jetliner between the US and Cuba, as US airlines only flew propeller-powered aircraft to the Caribbean island before the embargo began.
Until now, people flying to Cuba had to book charter flights, which meant passengers had to arrive at the airport four hours before takeoff and were charged steep fees for luggage. Prices were high, lines were long and flights were often hours late. The document review process was time-consuming, and passengers stood in separate lines to check in, check bags, have bags weighed and pay for the checked luggage.
Now it is as simple as booking a flight on an airline’s website, for customers who fall into any of the 12 authorized categories approved for travel – family visits; official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations; journalistic activity; professional research and professional meetings; educational activities; religious activities; public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions; support for the Cuban people; humanitarian projects; activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; exportation, importation, or transmission of information or informational materials; and certain authorized export transactions.
In addition to Santa Clara, JetBlue will launch service between Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood and Camagüey – Ignacio Agramonte Airport on November 3, and Holguín – Frank País Airport on November 10, subject to receipt of government operating authority.
Cuba and the US agreed to allow up to 90 daily round-trip flights between the two nations, the Department of Transportation (DOT) said. Six airlines have been approved for flights to nine Cuban cities other than Havana, but not all of them have announced their schedules.
Yesterday, the DOT also announced that along with Jet Blue, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Frontier Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines and United Airlines would operate the coveted Havana flights. The airlines will fly from Atlanta; Charlotte, N.C.; Fort Lauderdale; Houston; Los Angeles; Miami; Newark; New York; Orlando, Florida.; and Tampa, Florida.