Cubans welcomed Wednesday, the first scheduled U.S. passenger flight to the Caribbean nation since a detente between the former Cold War foes. Rough Cut (no reporter narration).
ROUGH CUT -- NATURAL (NO REPORTER NARRATION) STORY: A JetBlue Airways Corp passenger jet landed in the central Cuban city of Santa Clara on Wednesday (August 31), becoming the first scheduled commercial passenger flight from the United States to the island in more than a half century. The arrival of the Airbus A320 from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, opened another chapter in the Obama administration's efforts to improve ties and increase trade and travel with the former Cold War foe. The Obama administration hopes regular scheduled flights will usher in an era of more routine travel to and from the Communist-ruled island. Regular travellers, including some of Cuban descent, occupied nearly half the seats on a route that may be a commercial challenge, at least initially. "I'm very happy because this it's a good deal with flights because the truth is it was very expensive and this is good because Cubans can travel a little more," said Xiomara Fernandez, a Cuban resident living in the United States. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry noted in a Twitter message that the flight took place just over a year after the raising of the flag at the reopened U.S. embassy in Havana. He called it "another step forward." Cuba and the United States began normalizing relations in December 2014 after 18 months of secret talks and have since restored full diplomatic ties. Local priest Arnaldo Fernandez said the flight would help bridge ties between the former Cold War foes. "I think that is it a positive development because you have all the avenues for communication, communication is good. I think it is something great and I hope it keeps up into the future," he said. Until Wednesday (August 31), passenger air links between Cuba and the United States were by chartered flights. The flight landed in Santa Clara, a city with a population of about 200,000 that is known for its monument to revolutionary leader Ernesto "Che" Guevara. President Barack Obama's opening to Cuba has included a landmark visit by him to the Caribbean island in March and a series of measures to increase commercial ties, but the U.S. president has been unable to persuade Congress to lift the longstanding embargo. A memorandum of understanding between Cuba and the United States will limit Havana flights to 20 round trips per day. U.S. officials have yet to announce a final decision on which companies will get those coveted routes.