The first commercial flight from the U.S. to Cuba departed Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and arrived in Santa Clara on Wednesday.
CBS News correspondent Kris Van Cleave is among to the first to make the historic journey on JetBlue Flight 387, the first scheduled commercial flight to Cuba since 1961. Under newthat make it easier for Americans to go to Cuba, the start of regular air service means the forbidden island is looking a lot less forbidden.
For First Officer Frank Barreras, being at the controls of the history-making flight to Santa Clara, Cuba is to come full circle. His father, Frank Sr., was just a teenager when he fled Cuba on one of the last commercial flights to the U.S. 55 years ago.
“I think it’s going to be an emotional moment for all of us,” Barreras said. “I never thought this day would come in my lifetime. It’s an amazing, amazing time.”
JetBlue is the first U.S. airline to resume regularly scheduled airline service under new rules allowing Americans greater access to Cuba. Soon, as many as 110 daily flights from 10 airlines will depart the U.S. for the island nation.
“We wanted to be first to Cuba and our crew members wanted to be first in Cuba,” said JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes. “This is going to make travel not only easier, but much more affordable, and that’s going to encourage many more people to travel.”
Airlines were given just 90 days to launch the new service. Like JetBlue, American Airlines has been rushing to train their new employees in Cuba, shipping boxes of equipment and making sure everything works.
But Republican Mike McCaul -- chair of the House Homeland Security – said “this has been a very rushed process.”
“We don’t even know what their vetting process is for these employees. It just takes one person – either corrupted or radicalized – to put a bomb on an airplane,” McCaul said.
U.S. Air Marshals will be on some flights and the TSA said it is “confident in the security protocols” at the eight island airports assessed so far.
“We will ensure that they in fact meet all of those requirements that we put in place at last points of departure,” said TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger.
The U.S. still prohibits tourism to Cuba, but under the loosened travel rules, there is a lot of leeway. But the experience will be a little different for passengers – there will be extra steps because of the Visa process, so no app check in and passengers need to arrive three to four hours early.