Tampa's first commercial flights to Cuba take off on Monday

Southwest Airlines trips start Monday
Posted at 9:40 PM, Dec 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-12 17:52:01-05

In a matter of hours, history will be made. The first commercial flights from Tampa to Cuba are taking off first thing Monday morning.

Michael Blitch can flip through countless photos he's taken on his globe-trotting adventures.

"I've been very fortunate with opportunities that I've had. There's several places in the world I've been to that people may not be aware exist or never have an interest in going to--from Syria to Vietnam, India, and so forth," said Blitch.





He's visited 56 countries in all. Even while making it to the ends of the earth in Antarctica, he's yet to check off one destination just a few hundred miles from home.



"It's sort of like one of those forbidden ideas or forbidden fruit you're not supposed to go to," said Blitch.

But now his bags are packed. Monday morning, he'll board the inaugural flight from Tampa to Havana. He's got a Google map full of pinned places he wants to capture images of in his three-day trip to Cuba.

"People say they live vicariously through me," Blitch said.

His friend Angye Fox is excited to make her fourth, and most affordable, trip to the island nation. All her prior trips she used an expensive charter flight.

She says each time, she's seen noticeable improvements in Cuba.

"You see more businesses.  You see more people visually having store fronts. It's a level of communication, too, that's increased," said Fox.

And with Fidel Castro now gone, she hopes to see more good things to come.  But she knows not everyone is convinced. Some people fear the Cuban government is the only one benefiting from more American travelers.

"We step off that plane and we're a big piggy bank of money and most of us leave it behind with rum and cigars when we come back," Fox said.

But they're also leaving things to help the Cuban people. Michael Blitch, is packing up clothing and a modem to share with his host family. Friends will take bags of school supplies and toiletries.  They're all hoping to come back with a slice of Cuban culture.

And the airline knows it is the beginning of reuniting families separated for decades.

"The stories are incredible. There's so much excitement for them to finally be able to go home," said Dan Landson, Southwest Airlines spokesperson.

Monday morning's flight is full with 175 passengers heading to Havana. Southwest plans to keep offering daily flights to Cuba from Tampa, for as little as $150 round-trip.