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Brace yourself, Cuba, the Americans are coming

Impact of U.S.-Cuba flights
Impact of U.S.-Cuba flights 03:13

SANTA CLARA, Cuba -- Many more U.S. passenger jets will soon start flying to Cuba after Wednesday’s historic first commercial flight to the island in half of a century.

The Department of Transportation gave approval Wednesday for eight airlines to fly to Havana, and as many as 20 daily flights could soon be landing in the Cuban capital.

Historic flight to Cuba 03:44

For now, airlines are only going to smaller cities, like Santa Clara. That’s where the JetBlue flight touched down Wednesday, with CBS News correspondent Kris Van Cleave on board. 

During the flight, 10-month-old Olivia Gonzalez grabbed our camera and played happily, completely unware of the significance her journey.

As JetBlue Flight 387 from Fort Lauderdale arrived to a warm welcome in Santa Clara, the touchdown heralded new chapter in U.S.-Cuban relations

The rest of little Olivia’s family knew very well that they were making history -- and not just geopolitical history; it was personal.

“I’m taking a lot of Kleenex,” Nimaris Gonzalez told Van Cleave during the trip.

Nimaris and her partner Mario are getting married later Thursday, and their two daughters will be baptized in their family’s long-time church. The kids will then meet their ailing great grandmother for the first time. 

“For her to say that she would like to meet Olivia and Daniella meant everything to me. I was like, ‘I really want to make this happen,’” Nimaris said. 

It was an emotional moment for Yara Erosa, too, as she arrived in Santa Clara -- the place her mother grew up, but fled in the 1960’s -- as she got off the plane and finally met her uncle.

She said it was “like that first time a child sees Santa Claus and gets a Christmas tree full of gifts.”

Santa Clara is Cuba’s fifth-largest city, with nearly 250,000 residents. It’s a bit of a crossroads in the center of the island.

Famed revolutionary Che Guevera is buried in a monument in the city -- one that will soon be visited by many more Americans as the number of scheduled flights expands, and that will be a demanding test for Cuba’s limited tourist infrastructure. 

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, who was also on the first flight, expects that to change, but he told CBS News there’s a long way to go.

“Getting the infrastructure in a position to embrace this kind of activity is going to require a lot of effort on the part of the Cubans,” Foxx said.

Taimarie Locke wanted to be on the first flight so she could see Cuba as it is now -- “while it was still raw” -- before the rest of America arrives.

There is, undoubtedly, still a lot of work to be done -- even on Santa Clara’s airport. Before the JetBlue flight touched down on Wednesday, Van Cleave said the pilots told everyone 500 feet of the runway was closed.

They had to fly over a truck that was parked on the runway, marking where it was safe to land.

Silver Airways starts its service to Santa Clara Thursday. American begins rolling out service next week.   

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