Saturday, December 3, 2016

Inaugural Orlando - Havana Flight: JetBlue accentuates the historicity

JetBlue inaugurated its spanking new Orlando - Havana route with an 8:29-am, Orlando-origin flight on Tuesday, November 29th. And if there was any concern about the incoming administration's position on the policies that made this flight possible, the airline did not allow it to affect the show that it put on for this inaugural flight.

I had been threatening to fly to Cuba for a while to report on the farm-to-table scene for my blog but had not taken any steps towards that end. This all changed when JetBlue announced the sale of tickets for the inaugural flight for its newly awarded route between Orlando and Havana. I saw the opportunity to meet my original goal while participating in what i perceived to be a historic event.

We had missed a recent JetBlue flight to NY so, to prevent a repeat performance, my wife had set the alarm at an ungodly hour. And a good thing she did. First off, everyone had had the same idea to get there early. Second, you needed to affirm, by affidavit, your reason for traveling to the island. Even if you had filed the affidavit online, you had to redo it manually because the online submittals had not linked to individual travel records. And, third, visas had to be purchased ($50) for each non-resdident Cuban traveling. All in all, a slow process.

JetBlue sought to make the process bearable. They had staff members aplenty on hand directing you to the right lines and handing out affidavits so that they could be filled out before approaching the counter. Staff members working "the floor" wore Tshirts which loudly commemorated the event. The lines were long but orderly and, judging by the number and (large) sizes of the checked luggage, were primarily populated by individuals taking advantage of the flight to visit family members on the island.

After check-in we headed towards the gate. And it was there that the show truly began. The flight was leaving out of Gate 1 and the airline had set up a VIP area just opposite. This area was populated with JetBlue executives, important travelers, and helpful staffers. Through her connections, my wife had snagged a couple of VIP pins for us so we were able to participate fully in the experience. A variety of Cuban foods (empanadas, cakes, pastries, flan, etc.) and brought a little bit of the island to the area. Warren Christy, a senior JetBlue executive, was taking the flight down and held a number of interviews with local TV newscasters.

Warren Christy of JetBlue

Parlo and Mrs Christy
We were among the last to board, grudgingly exiting the cocoon of the VIP area to traverse the press gauntlet that defined the path to the boarding gate.

Plane that was taking us down to Cuba at gate
At every step along the way we had been enthusiastically welcomed by JetBlue staffers. And the boarding gate and plane attendants were no exception. Every seat on the plane was adorned with a Cuban Flag and a swag bag.

The taxi was relatively short and we were number one for takeoff when we got to the runway. In his remarks, the pilot had indicated that the flight duration would be 1 hour and 1 minute. There was in-flight service but, due to the brevity of the flight, it was still ongoing when we started our initial descent.

JetBlue staffers waving us on our merry way
I normally like an aisle seat but, on this occassion, I took a window because I wanted a good view of the island upon our approach. I saw the initial dark-brown outline of the shoreline through white puffy clouds, a view which evolved into more structured forms of farmland and industrial sites as we traveled further inland.

At this point Warren Chrity took the microphone and thanked us all for being a part of this historic flight. He was the receipient of a warm round of applause. It was as though the travellers were saying "thank you guys for doing this."

The landing was flawless and was greeted with loud hoots, clapping, and waving of the Cuban flags that had been placed on our seats previously. As I exited the plane, I shook Mr. Christy's hand and wished him and his organization well on the new route. I am a regular JetBlue customer and a fan of the organization. They represented on this one.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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