How JetBlue made history this morning with flight to Cuba

Seth Miller, New York, is the first passenger to board a commercial flight to Cuba in over 55 years at Fort Lauderdale International Airport on August 31, 2016. JetBlue has started service to Santa Clara, Cuba. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Seth Miller, New York, is the first passenger to board a commercial flight to Cuba in over 55 years at Fort Lauderdale International Airport on August 31, 2016. JetBlue has started service to Santa Clara, Cuba. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

There were cheers and balloons as JetBlue sent off its first regularly scheduled flight from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport to Santa Clara, Cuba — the first such flight between the U.S. and the island nation in more than 50 years.

Among the guests on the flight: U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

Although about half of the 150 seats on the plane were occupied by journalists, many travelers said they were making a pilgrimage-type journey to visit family, or explore their birthplace.

That was the case for Domingo Santana of Miami, who came to the United States in 1968.

Planning the trip was made even more special, he said, because he bought the first ticket for the flight.

Domingo Santana of Miami was the first passenger to buy a ticket on JetBlue's flight to Cuba Aug. 31, 2016. (Kristina Webb/ The Palm Beach Post)

Domingo Santana of Miami was the first passenger to buy a ticket on JetBlue’s flight to Cuba Aug. 31, 2016. (Kristina Webb/ The Palm Beach Post)

“It’s historic not only that it’s the first flight … but I also get to discover the country where I was born,” he said. “This is my first time going back home.”

Santana’s tip for those hoping to go to Cuba: If you have a Cuban passport, be sure to use that name when booking your flight.

Mark Gale, CEO and president of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, said he’s proud of his team and JetBlue.

The airline accounts for about a fifth of all flights at the airport.

“To have that very, very first flight come out of our airport is a great honor,” he said.

Fort Lauderdale’s airport is host to more weekly trips to Cuba than Miami — something Gale said is “a testament to the reputation of Fort Lauderdale.”

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