US commercial flights to Cuba finally take off

Posted: 02-Sep-16 10:20

After fifty years of hostile relationships that prevented regular air service between Cuba and the US, direct commercial flights have finally taken off. As planned, an airplane from JetBlue landed in the Caribbean island on 31st August, after several measures were taken to ensure the security of travellers.

US commercial flights to Cuba finally take off

Excited publisher and editor of Airways Magazine, Enrique Perella documented one of the most extraordinary events of the year on his Twitter account: the arrival of JetBlue Flight 387 on Cuban soil this Wednesday, 31st August. This Fort Lauderdale-Florida to Santa Clara, Cuba flight is the latest symbol of the thaw between the former Cold War adversaries, who restored diplomatic ties on December 2014.

US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx also travelled to the island on this historic day to mark the occasion of the first direct commercial flight. Despite this being a great step forward for both countries, tourism to Cuba is still illegal. Nevertheless, the Obama administration has eased restrictions on travel to Cuba and now American citizens can visit the island is they fit into one of twelve authorised categories, which include family visits, cultural exchanges and people-to-people travel.

Due to these more relaxed measures, the number of Americans that have travelled to Cuba reaches a high peak of over 93,000 people, a number that is expected to only keep growing in the upcoming months. Soon up to a maximum of 110 daily flights operated by such carriers as JetBlue, American Airlines, Delta, Frontier, Southwest and Silver Airways are due to begin flying to the communist-run island, according to the US Department of Transportation.

Eduardo Rodriguez, Cuban Vice Minister of Transportation, insists he sees this new development as a positive step. During a news conference in Havana this Monday, he stated:

“This process of establishing regular flights is a positive step. Although the restrictions of the blockade remain, which among other things impede United States citizens from traveling to our country as tourists.”

This event truly marks the end of an era, for a country that had not received any US commercial flight service since 1961. The first step towards bettering this situation for families, who had been divided when immigrating to the US, was in 2001 when a change in US regulations allowed Cuban Americans to visit family on the island and for charter flights to begin to travel between the two countries.

It has been with much effort that both nations have finally arrived at this point. Before being able re-establish regular air service between Cuba and the US, American authorities were very concerned about safety in airports. Over the summer, Cuban airports adopted US security requirements like allowing air marshals to board the flights, whilst some repair works began in Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport.

Spokesman for Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in the US, Mark England insisted that it was safe to travel to the island, despite lack of some technological advances:

“Technology is only one element of a security system that is multi-layered and involves people, processes and technology. TSA has sent teams of TSA inspectors on a regular basis to Cuba to assess airports currently operating as last points of departure to ensure compliance with international standards" set out by the International aviation arm of the United Nations, ICAO.”

As commercial flight service begins once more, after a long hiatus of over fifty years, Americans cannot wait to see Cuba before it changes or becomes too “westernised”. For this reason, the amount of US travellers arriving to the island through the 12 legal categories is expected to grow significantly now that getting to Cuba is easier and cheaper.


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