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First commercial flight from United States to Cuba takes off

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Posted at 8:46 AM, Aug 31, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-31 08:46:28-04

The first scheduled commercial flight from the United States to Cuba in more than a half century will take off this morning with 150 people on board.

JetBlue Flight 387 is scheduled to depart Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport at 9:45 a.m. and touch down on the formerly forbidden island at 10:57 a.m. in Santa Clara.

The passengers on board the Airbus A320 will be mostly members of the media, airline executives and other VIPs, but about 60 people are regular travelers, lucky to be a part of a historic diplomatic event.

Check First: Everything you need to know about traveling to Cuba

The flight itself will be short-lived, lasting just over an hour, but the significance and fanfare surrounding it will be substantial.

Before departing, the plane will receive a water cannon salute, a long tradition in celebrating a ship's or aircraft's special occasion.

JetBlue said passengers will enjoy an in-flight bingo game and giveaways. JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes is also expected to give remarks.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx announced on Twitter yesterday that he too would be on board the flight.

Remarks and receptions will bookend the outbound flight before JetBlue Flight 388 makes its return to the U.S., where it is scheduled to land at 3:35 p.m. in Fort Lauderdale.

The pilots in charge of the first pair of flights between the countries are Captain Mark Luaces and First Officer Francisco Barreras.

Luaces, born in Miami, is the son of Cuban parents who came to the U.S. as teenagers. Barreras is also the son of two Cuban parents who came to the U.S. in 1961. His great-uncle was a general manager for Pan Am in Havana. Another family member was a pilot for the Castro family.

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American Airlines, the U.S.'s largest carrier, will fly to Cuba on Sept. 7.

Ten U.S.-based airlines that have now been approved for scheduled service to the island are Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue, Silver Airways, Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines, Sun Country and United Airlines.