JetBlue is the first major airline carrier in the U.S. to offer a direct flight to Cuba. Photo by JetBlue
NEW YORK, July 4 (UPI) -- Non-tourism travel to Cuba from the U.S. has been allowed since President Obama eased travel restrictions earlier this year, but until recently, only a handful of indirect flights were available from Florida and New York.
JetBlue announced this week it has begun offering direct charter flights from New York City to Cuba -- the first major American airline to do so.
The maiden voyage took off on Friday from New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) and touched down a few hours later on the runways of Havana's Jose Marti International Airport (HAV). The travelers were mostly Cuban-Americans returning to visit relatives.
"This is something we're going to talk about for years and years and years," Carlos Infante, who was born in Cuba but now lives in Brooklyn, told The Hill. "This is an opportunity for Americans to go to Cuba."
"I can't explain, it's something that's in your heart," he said of his first voyage home in 50 years. "I don't have words to say -- this is a beautiful day."
Although JetBlue is providing the transportation, flight arrangements must be made with Cuba Travel Services. The intermediary group has been arranging travel from the U.S. to Cuba through a variety of smaller charter services. But so far, JetBlue has been the only major flyer to show interest in Cuba.
"JetBlue already has a proven track record of providing outstanding service to the Caribbean and has operated a series of successful charters to Cuba since 2011," Scott Laurence, senior vice president of airline planning at JetBlue, said in a press release. "As interest in Cuban markets grows, JetBlue is positioning itself as a leading carrier to the island nation by operating more convenient flight options than ever."
Earlier this week, President Obama announced the two countries would be building embassies in each other's capitals.