Gustavo L. was 8 months old when his family left Cuba as Fidel Castro’s regime was consolidating its recently won power.
Today, 56 years later, Gus, an Atlanta-based Delta captain, becomes one of the airline’s first pilots to return to Cuba. He was flying from Atlanta to Havana, one of three Delta flights between the U.S. and the Cuban capital.
It will be his first time in his native land since 1960 and, speaking in an interview this week, he said he was expecting an emotional day.
“Being one of the first pilots to go back to Cuba is very important to me,” said Gus, noting that Delta left Cuba nearly the same time he did – the airline ended regular service in 1961. “It’s a homecoming for me of sorts and also a homecoming for Delta. We’re returning together.”
Delta begun daily service to Havana from Miami, New York-JFK and Atlanta on December 1.
The Airline will have regularly scheduled passenger service with nonstop daily flights from the U.S. to Cuba. Flights will depart from Miami, New York-JFK and Atlanta to Havana as the airline makes its return to the Cuban capital for the first time in 55 years.
The airline is the only existing U.S. carrier to previously operate passenger service until it was suspended in 1961 due to an unstable political climate and profitability challenges. Delta was also the last U.S. carrier to exit the Cuban market with the suspension of its Havana to New Orleans service.
Delta Flight 625 was scheduled to depart Miami International Airport at 8:59 a.m. and touch down at Havana’s José Martí International Airport just after 10 a.m., making it the first official regularly scheduled Delta passenger flight since service was suspended in December 1961.
Additionally, Delta Flight 448 from New York-JFK International Airport was scheduled to arrive just before noon and Delta’s Flight 639 from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is expected to arrive just before 1:30 p.m.
“Today marks the resumption of service to a storied travel destination that has lacked a direct connection to the U.S. for most of our lifetimes,” said Steve Sear, President – International and Executive Vice President – Global Sales. “We thank the authorities and officials who allowed us to resume passenger service and are proud of the Delta team who worked tirelessly this past year to add that dot back to our route maps after its absence for more than half a century.”
“We are pleased to welcome Delta Air Lines’ direct route from Atlanta to Cuba’s capital, solidifying Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport not only as the world’s busiest airport, but also the gateway to the world,” said Mayor Kasim Reed. “I had the unique privilege to conduct a trade mission to Cuba last year, along with several other government and business leaders in Georgia, where we explored opportunities for partnership in the airport management, logistics, food exports, information technology and tourism sectors. Atlanta is well-poised to serve as an important domestic partner to Cuba and this route will open several business and tourism opportunities.”
Delta is among eight carriers granted authority by the Department of Transportation to serve Havana, and it began selling flights from the U.S. to Cuba in September. In early November, Delta became the first U.S. airline to open a City Ticket Office in downtown Havana to support local tickets sales for Cubans traveling to the U.S. Delta will offer almost 3,000 seats weekly between the U.S. and Cuba.
Delta’s Havana service from Miami and New York links the two top cities with largest Cuban-American population, while Atlanta represents the largest connection point of passengers to Havana providing more than 150 U.S. cities with one-stop access to Cuba from the world’s largest hub.
Delta customers can count on the airline’s superior operational performance, service, products and connections to its global network. All three U.S. markets offer Delta Sky Clubs with upgraded food and drink options and SkyPriority lines for faster check-in and boarding. On board, customers will receive Delta’s refreshments, free in-flight entertainment* and Wi-Fi*.
Delta’s History in Cuba
Delta inherited passenger service to Havana, Cuba, from its merger with Chicago and Southern Air Lines (C&S) on May 1, 1953, offering nonstop flights from New Orleans. Delta suspended service on Dec. 6, 1961.
From 2002-2004 Delta operated charters between New York-JFK and Havana. In October 2011, Delta began operating up to a dozen charter flights to Havana per week with daily service from Miami and weekly service from Atlanta and New York-JFK. It operated almost 500 trips before suspending service on Dec. 29, 2012. Most recently, Delta operated three ad hoc charter flights in 2015, including one that carried the Minnesota Orchestra back to Cuba for its first performance on the island in more than 85 years.