This day has finally come: You can now fly to Cuba without having the clout (and finances) of Jay-Z and Beyonce. JetBlue launched its New York-Havana route on Friday, becoming the first major U.S. airline to operate a direct flight to Cuba departing from American soil. The popular American airline announced the new route in May, shortly after President Obama lifted the travel restrictions on Cuba that were in place for over 50 years. This historic flight also comes just two days after Obama announced the reopening of an U.S. embassy in Cuba.
The non-stop flight departed New York at noon on Friday, with a return flight scheduled later in the afternoon. The airline said it will operate the direct flight between New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport and Havana's José Martí International Airport each Friday with an Airbus A320, which can seat 150 passengers. Let's pause for a second to take in the irony of the inaugural U.S. flight to Cuba leaving from an airport named after JFK, whose presidency was both tainted and validated by several actions taken in Cuba.
"JetBlue already has a proven track record of providing outstanding service to the Caribbean and has operated a series of successful charters to Cuba since 2011," Scott Laurence, senior vice president airline planning at JetBlue, said in a statement. "As interest in Cuban markets grows, JetBlue is positioning itself as a leading carrier to the island nation by operating more convenient flight options than ever." The New York-Havana route will be just one of five weekly trips to Cuba serviced by JetBlue. The airline said it will operate flights between Tampa and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with several of its charter partners. While the New York-Havana flight is being operated by JetBlue, passengers will have to make arrangements directly with Cuba Travel Services, the airline said in a statement.
Although Americans now have more travel options between Cuba and the United States, it won't be so easy to take a vacation to Havana just yet. Travel between the two nations is still partially restricted despite the reopened relations. According to the White House, there are only 12 government- approved reasons why Americans can travel to Cuba at this time:
- to visit family members
- to conduct official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and intergovernmental organizations
- to complete a "journalist" project or activity
- to conduct professional research or hold professional meetings
- to complete educational activities
- for religious activities
- to participate in public performances, workshops, exhibitions and athletic events
- to work on humanitarian projects
- to support the Cuban people
- to work for private foundations, research, or educational institutes
- for the exportation, importation or transmission of information or information materials
- to complete certain authorized transactions
Still, Friday was a remarkable day for many passengers onboard JetBlue's inaugural flight to Havana. Carlos Infante, a New York City resident who was traveling back to his homeland for the first time in decades, told NBC New York: "This is something we're gonna talk about for years and years and years; this is an opportunity for American people to go to Cuba."
"I don't have words to say how I feel — this is a beautiful day," Infante added.
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