Lonely Planet Writer

First commercial flight to Cuba from the USA in 50 years touches down

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The first commercial flight to Cuba from the USA in more than 50 years landed safely today.

The JetBlue flight took off from Fort Lauderdale at 9.45am local time following an inauguration ceremony. The plane was given a water salute as it taxied onto the runway, a ceremony used for notable flight events.

The flight lasted just 45 minutes, landing at Santa Clara at 11am. Among the passengers were U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, as well the media, executives and VIPs, though the airlines confirmed that at least 60 passengers were ordinary travellers. They enjoyed giveaways and in-flight bingo to celebrate the occasion.

The passengers attended a reception after disembarking and the plane is expected to make a return flight to the USA later today. The service will have capacity for 150 passengers and is scheduled for an initial run of three times a week until 1 October when it will switch to a daily service.

JetBlue is also planning on starting new routes between Fort Lauderdale, Camaguey and Holguin in November but these are awaiting final approval from the Cuban government. Silver Airlines and American Airlines are also due to start services to Cuba in September.

While charter flights have always been allowed to fly to the island nation, the new commercial flights will undoubtedly make it easier than ever to visit. However, US travellers must still sign an affidavit stating their trip falls under twelve authorised categories of travel.

The relaxing of these restrictions coupled with the thawing of diplomatic relations has already spurred a tourist boom on the island. Earlier this year, the island announced a plan to build 100,000 new hotel rooms over the next 15 years. A record number of 3.52 million people visited Cuba in 2015 and this year is expected to break even more records.

Cuba set to welcome more tourists than ever.
Cuba set to welcome more tourists than ever. Image by Guillaume Baviere / CC BY 2.0