Photo by John Schreiber.
Photo by John Schreiber.

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 departed Los Angeles International Airport shortly before  9 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.

“We sometimes overlook the fact that air travel holds tremendous power to connect people and overcome boundaries,” said Joe Sprague, Alaska Airlines’ senior vice president of communications and external relations. “This new West Coast service is another historic step in opening up relations between our two countries and we’re thrilled to host a delegation of trade, tourism and educational leaders to explore Cuba’s capital city.”

Among the members of the trade delegation were Sister Cities Los Angeles Chairman Tom Gilmore and President Fabiola Vilchez. They are expected to begin discussions on a “city-to-city relationship” between Los Angeles and Havana. Officials from the UCLA Center for World Health were also aboard in hopes of pursuing medical trials for advancements in cancer and diabetes treatments developed by Cuban doctors and medical researchers.

University of Washington President Ana Mari Cauce, the first Cuban-born leader of a major American academic institution, was also among the delegates.

“I’m thrilled at this new spirit of openness and the opportunity for us to build greater ties with the people of Cuba,” Cauce said. “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.”

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.

—City News Service

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