Earlier this week, JetBlue made history with the first commercial flight to Cuba in over five decades. Departing from Fort Lauderdale, JetBlue Flight 387 touched down before noon on Wednesday in the provincial capital of Santa Clara, located in the center of the island. The flight was just the first of dozens of daily routes that are set to inundate Cuba’s airports from a list of approved US airports and carriers, but its historical importance wasn’t lost for a second on JetBlue.
In fact, the Queens-based low cost carrier marked the occasion by putting Cuban-American pilot Mark Luaces and First Officer Francesco Barreras in the cockpit, highlighting the symbolic significance of the flight for families separated by years of hostilities. To boot, they even set aside a handful of seats for JetBlue employees to participate in the historical occasion, choosing the lucky jet-setters through a raffle that required each employee to write a motivation letter detailing their reasons for applying.
So it’s no surprise that 38-year-old New Jersey native Yara Erosa was chosen from the 80 applicants vying for a spot on the flight. As the daughter of Cuban émigrés who came to the United States as children, Erosa lived through their memories of the island thanks to a constant stream of stories and recollections. And despite never actually visiting Cuba due to her family’s political differences, Erosa considered the island her home and was unconcerned by the ideological hangups of the older generations.
After a traumatic car accident left her in a coma nearly twenty years ago, Erosa swore that she would see Cuba before she died. Traveling alongside a handful of other Cuban-Americans who were seeing the island for the first time or returning after a lifetime of absence, Erosa was overjoyed at the opportunity to touch down in an imaged homeland that had so long been out of her reach. Now, thanks to this momentous step in US-Cuba relations, it’s will only be 70 minutes away.