LOS ANGELES—Alaskan Airlines flew its initial commercial flight to Havana, Cuba on Thursday, January 5 for the first time in decades.
The inaugural flight departed from Los Angeles International airport at 8:50 a.m. pacific time. Fifty government officials, cultural leaders, and business directors were among the 180 passengers on board flight 286. Many passengers were returning to Cuba after decades of being away, according to Alaskan Airlines.
Alaskan Airlines officials estimated last year that Los Angeles flights to Cuba could serve an estimated 190,000 passengers per year, serving a U.S. city with one of the largest Cuban American populations outside of Florida.
This coincides with the effort in restoring diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba. President Barack Obama began his attempt to heal old wounds by visiting in 2016 after nearly a century of conflict. The flight comes after the death of Cuban leader, Fidel Castro and 60 years after the US imposed its trade embargo on Cuba, the longest held embargo in modern history, which is still in effect.
A pre-flight ceremony took place before the aircraft began boarding. Attendees included Joe Sprague, senior vice president of communications for Alaskan Airlines, Ana Mari Cauce, University of Washington President, and Fabiola Vilchez and Tom Gilmore, Sister Cities Los Angeles president and chairman.
“I’m thrilled at this new spirit of openness and the opportunity for us to build greater ties with the people of Cuba,” said Cauc. “We have much to share and learn about the Cuban people’s work in health care and education. This visit is a high point for me personally and professionally.”