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Thursday, September 1, 2016, 14:08

US resumes scheduled commercial flights to Cuba

By Xinhua
US resumes scheduled commercial flights to Cuba
Firetrucks spray water over JetBlue flight 387, "baptizing" the first commercial flight between the US and Cuba in more than half a century, after touching down at the airport in Santa Clara, Cuba, Aug 31, 2016. (Photo / AP )

SANTA CLARA, Cuba - After 55 years of interruption, Cuba and the United States on Wednesday re-established regular commercial direct flights, marking a concrete step in thawing ties between the former Cold War foes.

The JetBlue Airways plane took off Wednesday morning from Fort Lauderdale, Florida with 150 passengers on board and arrived at Abel Santamaria International Airport in the central city of Santa Clara shortly before 11 am local time.

Among the passengers are US Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, airline executives as well as Cuban Americans.

The entire flight took about an hour but inaugurated a new stage in bilateral ties and provided a new way for families from both shores to reunite frequently.

After landing, the Airbus A320 received traditional water-cannon salute that greets special flights on the tarmac.

HISTORIC FLIGHT IN OVER 50 YEARS

"This first flight is definitely historic and it's a good way for Cuban-Americans to reconnect with our families in the island, learn from our past and visit incredible sights in this beautiful country," Yara Erosa, a passenger on the plane, told Xinhua.

Emotions were running high for this 42 year-old Orlando resident who will meet her cousins and uncles in her very first trip to Cuba.

"It's important for us to know about our heritage and roots. I will visit as many places as possible in Santa Clara, the city where my parents were born," she said.

The restart of commercial travel between the two countries is one of the most important steps of President Barack Obama's two-year-old policy of normalizing relations with the island and will leave a significant impact on the large Cuban community living in that country.

"This is one of the most visible examples of the president's activities to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba," Foxx told reporters.

Foxx, the first to disembark the flight, was greeted by Cuban Deputy Transportation Minister Eduardo Rodriguez and airport staff before heading to Havana to meet with other Cuban officials.

Meanwhile, JetBlue executives were "thrilled" to be the first airline to fly into a Cuban airport for regular commercial flights after more than half a century.

Robin Hayes, JetBlue chief executive officer, said, "Cuba has been our most talked about destination for some time and we are thrilled to be the first US airline to Cuba with commercial service and our purpose is also to be the best airline."

JetBlue has been operating charter flights to Cuba for five years, making it the natural choice for the inaugural flight.

"We want to build a solid and lasting relationship with Cuba's civil aviation authorities and at the same time expand our presence in the Cuban market," Hayes added.

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