For Mike Coughlan, traveling to Cuba for the first time is a chance to go somewhere that previously seeemed out of reach.
“I’ve always wanted to go to Cuba and I knew it was difficult to get there,” said Coughlan, a geologist who lives in Midtown Atlanta. Originally from Miami, he said the idea of Cuba “was such a big part of my life growing up.”
He got a ticket for Delta’s first scheduled flight from Atlanta to Havana in 55 years, which departed Thursday morning. “It’s exciting,” he said at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport shortly before boarding.
For Maria Eugenia de Bernard of McDonough, the launch of Delta’s Cuba service on Dec. 1 made it a “great, great day.”
“It’s an excellent opportunity for everyone who wants to see what Cuba is all about,” said de Bernard, who is from Cuba and also booked a seat on the first Delta flight. “The Cuban community in Atlanta — everybody’s excited about this.”
She said the launch of flights during Cuba’s period of mourning following the death of Fidel Castro is “something we have to understand,” adding that Castro”has a big big influence over everybody’s life” in Cuba.
Ralph Heid, from Charlevoix, Mich., also flew from Atlanta to Havana on Thursday on Delta’s flight and said he’s making the trip to acquire books on Cuban history and culture for the University of Michigan library, where he volunteers.
To Heid, the re-opening of relations between Cuba and the United States is “long overdue. We’ve moved on a long way since the 1950s and 60s, and it’s time to have relations between two important countries in this area.”
“There may be some bumps in the road with the new [presidential] administration, but I don’t think it’s going to stop the inevitable warming of relations,” Heid said.
Kit Sutherland, who lives in the Old Fourth Ward, has made 14 trips to Cuba already and has been advocating for years for open relations with the country.
“I’m thrilled to see Delta making this step,” Sutherland said, who was traveling with her husband Stuart on Delta’s Atlanta-Havana flight Thursday. “It’s a historic flight for Delta and for Cuba.”
Sutherland said she sees opportunities in relations with Cuba for local industry.
“There’s so many companies here in Atlanta that would benefit from normalization of relations with Cuba,” including Delta, AT&T and Coca-Cola, Sutherland said.
As she prepared to board the flight, Sutherland said: “This is very, very important to me…. I’m living the dream.”
Roxana Lee, who lives in Cuba and was returning home on Delta’s flight after a trip to Salt Lake City, called the launch of the flights “better for all people — for Cuban people and other people, because we have family in the United States.”