With political relations warming between the United States and Cuba, Alaska Airlines flew the first regularly scheduled commercial flight between Los Angeles and Havana Thursday.
Flight 286 was scheduled to depart Los Angeles International Airport at 8:50 a.m., carrying a 50-person delegation of governmental, business and tourism dignitaries on a trade mission, along with more than 100 other passengers, many of whom are returning to Cuba for the first time in decades, according to Alaska Airlines.
A pre-flight ceremony was held to mark the historic flight, with attendees including Joe Sprague, Alaska Airlines' senior vice president of external relations; Los Angeles World Airports CEO Deborah Flint; and University of Washington President Ana Mari Cauce, the first Cuban-born leader of a major American academic institution.
"We at the university believe that travel is very important in bringing people together, and for me it's really special because these are the two countries and the two groups of people that I love the most," Cauce said. "And it's just remarkable for me to be able to be on this inaugural flight that will make it much more possible for our countries and our people to get to know each other."
Alaska officials estimated last year that Cuba flights from Los Angeles 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 is not about governments, this is about people," Cauce said. "We have so much in common, and this will give us an opportunity to get to know each other better, and to learn from each other."