First commercial US-Havana flight lands in ramped-up travel

Passengers from Miami, wearing straw hats provided by American Airlines with the word "Cuba" on the back, were greeted with welcome signs in various languages.

Havana: Just three days after the death of Fidel Castro, the first scheduled commercial flight from the US to Havana in more than 50 years has landed to the applause of passengers and a water-spraying salute from firetrucks.

But the wheels didn't even hit the ground before the warming ties initiated by President Barack Obama were thrown into doubt by President-elect Donald Trump, who has tweeted that he might "terminate" the detente.

The travel industry, among others, hopes otherwise.

Passengers from Miami, wearing straw hats provided by American Airlines with the word "Cuba" on the back, were greeted with welcome signs in various languages, but no music.

They arrived during an official mourning period, as Cubans packed Havana's Plaza of the Revolution to join an homage to Castro, and a state-sanctioned live music ban hushed the capital's usually festive nightlife.

The landing "was very emotional for me," said Jonathan Gonzalez, 31, a Cuban-American born in Miami who said it was his third time visiting the island.

For decades, people thought it would take the death of Castro to open up travel to Cuba.

In reality, restrictions on travel from the US had already eased since Obama lifted some rules last year by executive order.

Several airlines began routes to other Cuban cities earlier this year. Later yesterday, a JetBlue flight arrived in Havana from New York.

Carnival Corporation launched its first cruise to the island this year, and Starwood Hotels became the first US hotel brand to operate on the island.

Despite the relaxing of travel restrictions, going to Cuba isn't exactly like hopping a flight to another Caribbean destination. Pure tourism remains illegal under US regulations that allow 12 categories of travel to Cuba.

They include religious and sports activities, and educational travel promoting "people-to-people" contact, which is the clause most United States citizens travel under.

For Americans without family ties to Cuba, the most popular form of travel had been on tightly focused educational trips organised in conjunction with the Cuban government.

The Obama administration lifted that group requirement in March, leaving Americans free to travel to Cuba as long as they can credibly describe their trips as educational.

What happens after Trump's inauguration in January is murkier.

"If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the US as a whole, I will terminate deal," Trump tweeted yesterday.

Some in the travel industry remain hopeful that Washington will keep its Cuba policies intact and that Havana won't react by shutting off travel. 

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. You can find out more by clicking this link