Sounds of mambo music and smells of spicy ropa vieja permeated Terminal 4 at Los Angeles International Airport on Saturday, marking the inaugural charter flight from the West Coast to Havana.
The American Airlines-operated weekly nonstop flight was scheduled to depart at 12:45 p.m. from Gate 41 after a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by Mayor Eric Garcetti and other city leaders as well as airline and airport executives.
U.S. law still bars most tourist travel to Cuba. But new rules announced by President Barack Obama last year allow some Americans — close relatives, those in education and research programs, journalists and participants in religious, entertainment and sports activities — to visit without advance approval.
There also are ongoing talks between U.S. and Cuban officials to open regular commercial flights between the two nations, with travel from Los Angeles likely to be in high demand.
A civil aviation agreement would be needed, but airline officials expressed eagerness for regular flights to the island nation.
"We stand ready to offer scheduled service as soon as the United States and Cuba allow commercial flights," Art Torno, an American Airlines senior vice president, said recently.
The Los Angeles charter flights to Cuba are sold by Cuba Travel Services Inc. and will operate on Saturdays on Boeing 737s. American Airlines also operates charter flights to Cuba from Tampa and Miami.