It's a historic moment for two nations as first US commercial flight in 55 years lands in Cuba


The first commercial flight between the United States and Cuba in more than a half century landed in the central city of Santa Clara on Wednesday, re-establishing regular air service severed at the height of the Cold War.

The flight of JetBlue 387 opens a new era of US-Cuba travel, with about 300 flights a week connecting the US with an island cut off from most Americans by the 55-year-old trade embargo on Cuba and formal ban on US citizens engaging in tourism on the island.

"Seeing the American airlines landing routinely around the island will drive a sense of openness, integration and normality," said Richard Feinberg, author of the new book Open For Business: Building The New Cuban Economy.

"That has a huge psychological impact," he said.

JetBlue flight 387
(Ramon Espinosa/AP)

The restart of commercial travel between the two countries is one of the most important steps in President Barack Obama's two-year-old policy of normalising relations with the island.

Historians disagree on the exact date of the last commercial flight but it appears to have been after Cuba banned incoming flights during the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

Secretary of state John Kerry said on Twitter that the last commercial flight was in 1961.

US transportation secretary Anthony Foxx, JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes and a specially selected five-member crew of Cuban-Americans were slated to be on board the 150-seat Airbus A320.

Passengers on JetBlue flight 387.
(Michael Weissenstein/AP)

"It's a positive step and a concrete contribution to the process of improving relations between the two countries," said Cuba's vice minister of transportation Eduardo Rodriguez.

Commercial flights are expected to greatly increase the number of American visitors.

Many of the air routes are currently used by expensive charter flights that are largely expected to go out of business with the advent of regularly scheduled service from the US.

Hundreds of thousands of Cuban-born Americans fly to the island each year with the chaotic, understaffed charter companies. These require four-hour check-in waits and charge high rates for any luggage in excess of restrictive baggage allowances.