JetBlue flight departs to Cuba, first commercial flight to country in 50 years

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.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx was among the guests on the flight.

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.

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

He said planning the trip was even more special because he bought the first ticket for the flight.

"It's historic not only that it's the first flight … but I also get to discover the country where I was born," he told the Palm Beach Post. "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 you book 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 one-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, which Gale said is "a testament to the reputation of Fort Lauderdale."