Relations Between the US and Cuba Take Off
Jet Blue Flight 387 from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport to Abel Santamaria Airport in Santa Clara, Cuba, may only have been 51 minutes long, but it signified a remarkable advance in relations between the US and Cuba over 50 years in the making. The historic first scheduled commercial flight in over half a century took off in style on Wednesday, August 31st, amid celebratory live salsa music, festive Cuban pastries, and a ceremonial water cannon shower. Guests on the flight received gift bags and waved their Cuban flags in celebration as the wheels hit the tarmac in Santa Clara. NPR reported that Jet Blue Captain Mark Luaces and First Officer Francisco Barreras are both sons of Cuban immigrants. For many aboard, the significance of the flight was personal as they eagerly waited for a long overdue reunion with family members and loved ones.
The last scheduled commercial flight to Cuba took place in a propeller plane. It was the peak of the Cold War, amid the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. President Obama paved the way for the cooling Cold War tensions in December, 2014, by renewing diplomatic relations with Cuban President Raul Castro. Secretary of Transportation, Anthony Foxx, was the first to disembark the plane in Santa Clara, writing, “Today’s actions are the result of months of work by airlines, cities, the U.S. government, and many others toward delivering on President Obama’s promise to reengage with Cuba.”
Many question how the surge in US travel to Cuba will affect the island nation, often noted for its appearance to be frozen in time. Cuba has limited hotel accommodations and taxi service is most often provided by classic American or Russian vehicles. Secretary Foxx notes that many changes will have to be set in motion for Cuba’s airline infrastructure to accommodate the new influx of passengers. Many are hopeful, however, that the new tourism boost will help Cuba’s economy.
While travel to Cuba is easier than it has been in over 50 years, restrictions still exist. A US trade embargo is still intact and travel for purely touristic activities remains prohibited. There are 12 authorized categories of travel, including family visits, religious activities, journalism, and educational activities. Last year ETA sent more than a dozen groups to Cuba for people to people exchanges. The resumption of scheduled flights should make it more accessible and a bit less expensive.