NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — JetBlue’s first scheduled commercial flight from New York to Havana in more than 50 years took off from John F. Kennedy Airport on Monday.

The historic flight marks another milestone in U.S.-Cuba relations as memorial services get underway for the country’s former president Fidel Castro.

More than 200 people were on JetBlue Flight 243 which took off at 9:30 a.m. and landed in Havana at 1 p.m.

“It is completely sold out,” JetBlue official Giselle Cortes said.

Those onboard included curious JetBlue employees, as well as travelers visiting family and others on cultural missions.

Rolando Pino of New Jersey said he was going to Cuba to see his mother, who he last saw three months ago after taking a charter flight that cost him more than $800.

Steven, from Long Island City, said he booked his tickets as soon as they went on sale in October.

“I’m flying to Cuba for the interest in seeing it before it changes too much, and now of course the added importance with the passing of Castro,” he said. “We knew it was important in the sense that it was the first non-stop flight in many decades and so we were happy to be onboard the first commercial flight, but of course in recent days it’s taken on such added importance.”

As CBS2’s Scott Rapoport reported, it’s a sight many once thought they would never see.

The symbolism and significance of the moment was impossible for passengers to ignore.

“The USA and Cuba must be friends, and I think commercial flights must help that friendship,” Fabio Salvati said.

In Miami, an American Airlines jet took off Monday morning, for its first scheduled flight between there and Havana in more than half a century.

The moment was marked by a ribbon cutting, and long lines of passengers eagerly anticipating their trip.

John McAuliff, director of a non-profit helping to bridge the gap between Cuba and U.S., says this changes everything.

“Now you can book online and if you watch the dates you might be able to get a round trip for $300 or $400,” he said. “I think it’s great. I think it’s an important step in changing the relations.”

JetBlue planned a gate-side celebration for the inaugural flight with a band and dancers, but that was following news of Castro’s death, Diamond reported.

JetBlue will fly once-daily to Cuba from New York, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale. Tickets are in high demand and the airline expects the flights to be fully booked, Diamond reported.

American Airlines also started regularly scheduled commercial flights to Havana from Miami International Airport on Monday. Delta flights will start taking off from JFK, Miami, and Atlanta on Thursday.

JetBlue has been flying to Cuba out of Miami and other airports since August, when travel restrictions were lifted.

The new flights are part of the normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba that began in December 2014. With the transition from the Obama administration to the Trump administration, it is unclear whether that normalization will continue.

On Monday, President-elect Trump threatened to end the agreement.

“If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate deal,” Trump wrote on Twitter.

Top aides to Trump say the Cuban government must move toward enacting greater freedoms for the Cuban people and give America something in return if they want warmer relations to continue, CBS2 reported.

PHOTOS: Fidel Castro Through The Years

Meanwhile, Cuba is observing a week of mourning for Castro, who died Friday at age 90. Memorial services began with a 21-gun salute Monday ahead of Castro’s funeral next Sunday.

There is no word yet on whether the U.S. government is sending anyone to attend the funeral.

Comments
  1. Waiting for the first American tourist to sprain an ankle and wind up in a Cuban “hospital” ward. Do let him or her experience the local color, or do we send in the troops?

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