Under the specter of Fidel Castro’s death, and threats from President-elect Donald Trump to undo newly reinstated diplomatic relations between America and Cuba, the first regularly scheduled flight from the U.S. to Havana in more than half-a-century landed in the Cuban capital on Monday.
An American Airlines flight from Miami International Airport was the first to arrive, at 8:30 a.m., the first commercial airline to touch down in Havana since 1961.
It was followed three hours later by a JetBlue flight from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. Both aircraft were able to use the jet bridges at Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport; in the past, with charter flights the only means to get to Havana, passengers had to deplane on the tarmac.
Flights to other cities in Cuba began in August. Resumption of service to Havana took slightly longer in order to satisfy the demands of U.S. airlines that long had been licking their chops at the prospect of flying to one of the last great travel markets in the world.
American Airlines vice president of regulatory affairs Howard Kass told USA Today that "We're in uncharted territory."
What the first passengers found on Monday was a somber Havana after the death of its revolutionary leader, as Cuba is in the midst of a nine-day mourning period for Fidel Castro. American had red, white and blue balloons at the gate area in Miami before Flight 17 took off, handed out traditional Cuban straw hats to passengers, and arrived to sprays of water from firetrucks, but any other celebrations were muted. JetBlue canceled a planned celebration at the terminal at Jose Marti upon arrival. There is a ban on live music in the city until after the mourning period.
American will fly four flights a day from Miami to Havana. United begins its flights to Havana today, with Delta, Frontier and Spirit all beginning service to the city on Thursday. Southwest begins flying to Havana on Dec. 12, and Alaska Airlines will start in January.
Whether they will be able to continue is the question.
President-elect Trump reiterated again on Monday his opposition to President Obama’s normalizing relations with Cuba in December of 2014; members of his staff and transition team also made the rounds of the Sunday news shows delivering the same message. Campaign manager and senior advisor Kellyanne Conway told ABC's “This Week” that the administration is allowing commercial airlines to do business with a repressive Cuban government and military.
“We'll see what will happen with the Trump administration,” Alfredo Gonzalez, American Airlines' director for the Caribbean, told the Associated Press. “We don't know exactly what will happen but we can say that we are in Cuba, in the provinces, in Havana, and we will continue our service moving forward.”