A JetBlue airline that embarked from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to Santa Clara, Cuba, has become the first U.S. commercial flight to the communist nation in more than 50 years.
On Aug. 31, JetBlue Flight 387 touched down in Cuba, marking a new milestone in the rapidly softening relationship between the U.S. and its former enemy nation.
After escalating tensions during the Cold War, no U.S. commercial flights were allowed to what had been one of the most popular American tourism destinations. This changed in 2014, when President Barack Obama announced the U.S. would normalize relations with Cuba.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx was on board the JetBlue flight, joining 150 other passengers who were treated to live music and pastries before the flight.
“Today opens the door to further exchange between the American people and the Cuban people,” Foxx told The New York Times. “We think that’s ultimately good for the expansion of freedom and democracy.”
In coming months, six different airlines will be scheduling daily flights to nine Cuban cities. This will be a welcome relief to U.S. citizens interested in visiting the island nation, who have previously had to contend with costly and time-consuming charter flights to make the trip.
It is not clear which airlines will be flying directly to Havana, the most sought-after destination for American visitors. Currently, the number of airlines requesting to fly to the Cuban capital exceeds what the airport can accommodate.
Republican Rep. John Katko of New York has voiced concerns about Americans taking commercial flights to Cuba. The GOP lawmaker asserts that the Cuban international airports do not meet security standards, CNN reports.
Katko has sponsored legislation that would block all U.S. commercial flights to Cuba until they were satisfied that Americans would be safe arriving at the island nation’s airports.
“I just think it's dangerous and, again, I’m not saying anything bad is going to happen, but we just got to do our due diligence and we are just not doing it,” Katko said.
The U.S. Transportation Security Administration has confirmed that it has already inspected eight out of the 10 Cuban airports and found that they meet international safety standards.
Americans interested in visiting Cuba cannot travel there as a tourist, due to the continuing U.S. embargo of the country. Travellers must meet 12 pre-approved criteria to visit Cuba, such as visiting family, journalistic work or for cultural exchange, according to ABC News.
The Cuban government is issuing family, press, business and tourist visas for American visitors. The island nation currently does not have enough hotel rooms to accommodate its number of visitors, but U.S. hotel chains are beginning to spring up on the island nation to help meet demand.
While credit cards such as American Express and MasterCard are accepted in Cuba, the U.S. Embassy recommends that visitors carry enough cash to last their entire visit. Few businesses in Cuba are set up to take credit cards.