The first U.S. commercial flight to Cuba since 1961 took off from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Wednesday, carrying approximately 70 pedestrian travelers, as well as about 80 government officials, JetBlue Airways Corp. executives and media journalists.
JetBlue passenger Flight 387 landed at Abel Santamaría Airport — serving the central Cuban city of Santa Clara. The inaugural flight marks the beginning of a new era in the U.S.-Cuban relationship, which began to be “normalized” in December 2014 at the behest of the Obama Administration.
While the official travel ban is still in effect, U.S. citizens claiming one of 12 exemptions will now be able to fly to Cuba on America’s largest commercial airliners from eight more mainland cities starting later in the fall. Allowable reasons include family visits, business, educational, charitable and religious functions.
Service to Cuba’s capital city of Havana has been granted to American Airlines Group Inc., Southwest Airlines, Delta Airlines, American Airlines and Alaska Airlines from New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Atlanta, Miami, Charlotte, NC, Newark, NJ, and Tampa and Orlando, Fla.
Flights from Miami-Fort Lauderdale to will begin in September to José Martí International Airport on American Airlines passenger jets.
While the excitement of this new U.S. privilege is palatable among many would-be travelers, corporate airline CEOs and Transportation Department officials, others are skeptical that Cuba’s infrastructure and security apparatuses are ready to handle the new influx of up to 110 flights per day.
“TSA has not come close to doing a thorough security assessment of the airports in Cuba,” said Rep. John Katko (R-NY).
Citing threats originating from native airport employees, he continued that, “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 not doing it.”
A Transportation Security Administration (TSA) spokesman told CNN that the agency has investigated and signed-off on eight of Cuba’s 10 airports to-date, “and will complete the final two before flights commence at those locations.”