When JetBlue’s Flight 387 took off this morning from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, headed for Cuba, it was the first commercial airline to fly that route since 1961. For First Officer Frank Barreras, the trip held an extra level of poignancy — his father, Frank Sr., fled Cuba 55 years ago, aboard one of the last commercial flights to the U.S. “I never thought this day would come in my lifetime,” Barreras told CBS News. “It’s an amazing, amazing time.” JetBlue is the first U.S. airline to resume service, but it’s expected that 10 airlines will soon be offering more than 100 flights per day to nine Cuban cities.
Private pilots flying to Cuba still must cope with a morass of regulations, restrictions, fees and limited facilities. Private jets and charter operators will now have to compete with the airlines. For now, the airlines may have to fly at a loss, according to Reuters, because the country’s infrastructure isn’t ready to cope with an influx of U.S. visitors. And U.S rules still prohibit citizens from visiting Cuba as tourists — travelers must cite a reason to visit such as an educational interest, or a visit with relatives. “While all of the flights are unlikely to operate at capacity, the airlines want to plant their respective flags,” said John Kavulich, head of the New York-based U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council Inc. It will take several years, at least, Kavulich told Reuters, before those flights are full.