Scheduled air service between the USA and Cuba resumed earlier today after a hiatus of 55 years, with a JetBlue Airways flight from Fort Lauderdale to Santa Clara.
The inaugural flight came on the same day that US authorities finalised route authorities for US airlines to serve the Cuban capital of Havana, with service expected to launch later this year.
JetBlue flight 387 landed at Santa Clara to a water cannon salute just before 11:00 local time, with the airline's chief executive Robin Hayes and US transportation secretary Anthony Foxx among the 150 passengers on board.
The Airbus A320-operated flight also marked the first time that a US carrier operated a commercial jet on scheduled service to the Caribbean island nation, more than five decades after US airlines last flew propeller aircraft to Cuba.
“We are proud to be the first US airline to serve Cuba, but our focus is on being the best airline serving Cuba,” says Hayes. “This historic flight symbolises our long-term commitment to provide affordable, award-winning service between Cuba and the US."
The Fort Lauderdale-Santa Clara route is among a number of Cuban services planned by JetBlue, which will eventually operate up to seven daily flights to the country. The carrier will launch service from Fort Lauderdale to Camaguey on 3 November, and then to Holguin on 10 November.
JetBlue has also been awarded the rights to serve Havana from Fort Lauderdale, New York John F Kennedy and Orlando.
JetBlue chief Robin Hayes cuts the ribbon at Santa Clara airport
US regional carrier Silver Airways will be the second US carrier to relaunch scheduled flights to Cuba, and will operate from Fort Lauderdale to Santa Clara tomorrow.
American Airlines, already offering the lion's share of US charter flights to Cuba, will begin scheduled service on 7 September with flights from Miami to Cienfuegos and Holguin.
Later this year, US airlines will start scheduled flights to Havana, following a very competitive route authority proceeding that was finalised by the US Department of Transportation (DOT) today. The DOT tentatively awarded the Havana rights to eight US carriers in July, and finalised those decisions today after reviewing objections.
"The Department finds that no party has presented any arguments that warrant a different outcome in this proceeding," says the agency.
Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue, Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines and United Airlines were awarded the Havana route authorities.
It is not immediately clear which US carrier will be the first to operate to Havana, and service is subject to final Cuban approval. United says it plans to initiate service on 29 November from Newark, Delta wants to begin flights from Atlanta, Miami and New York JFK on 1 December, and Spirit says it will launch Fort Lauderdale-Havana flights on the same day. American's Havana service will go on sale in September before flights launch later this year. Southwest says it will release its Cuba schedule in the coming days.
US airlines are returning to Cuba with scheduled flights after a bilateral air services agreement was signed in February, following the historic announcement in December 2014 that the two countries will reinstate diplomatic relations after cutting off ties in 1961.
Despite the relaunch of commercial flights, a ban on travel by US citizens to Cuba for tourism remains in place.
Additional reporting by Edward Russell