Relations between the United States and Cuba took another step forward on Wednesday (31 August) as the first commercial flight between the two countries in 55 years took off from Florida, landing in Cuba an hour later.

Among the 150 passengers aboard JetBlue flight 387 were Cubans returning home and US transport secretary Anthony Foxx, plus journalists and dignitaries. On landing at Abel Santamaría international airport in Santa Clara, ground crews held up US and Cuban flags, a salsa band played music on the tarmac, and the plane received a water cannon salute.

US President Barack Obama set the process in motion in 2014 when he restored diplomatic relations with the former Cold War foe. A cruise ship docked in Cuba in May 2016 and direct postal services are now available again.

"Today is one of the most tangible examples of the president's vision for restored diplomatic relations with Cuba," said Transport Secretary Foxx.

"This is part of a larger objective we have right now to really nudge Cuba towards progress in the 21st century, economically, politically and on so many other fronts."

10 airlines have been granted licenses to undertake up to 110 flights per day between the two countries and this looks set to lead to a surge in visitors, many drawn to Havana by its colonial architecture.

However as a trade embargo remains in place, visitors from the US can't go as tourists: they must be eligible under one of 12 categories including religious, educational or cultural reasons, the Guardian reports.

This stipulation is said to have irritated Cubans, the majority of whom want normality restored as soon as possible. José Ramón Cabañas Rodríguez, Cuba's ambassador to the United States, said: "We hope that in the near future, all remaining obstacles that limit further exchange between the two countries will be removed."

In 1961 - the last time commercial planes flew between the two countries - Fidel Castro's Communist government had held power for just two years and in 1962 the world almost descended into nuclear war with the Cuban missile crisis. Fidel stepped down in 2006 leaving brother Raul in charge but, despite his ailing health, continues to be hugely influential in the small Caribbean country.

Cuba USA flight August 2016
The first commercial flight between the US and Cuba in more than 50 years lands in Santa Clara, Cuba, August 31, 2016. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini