(March 3, 2016) Jet Blue Airways and Southwest Airlines have each applied to the US Department of Transportation for permission to provide two daily nonstop flights between Tampa and Havana.
The US DOT received applications from at least 10 air carriers for dozens of daily flights to Havana for 20 available slots. A final decision from the DOT on which service to allow is expected this summer. Airlines and communities have until March 14 to make the case to the department for routes from their cities.
"Tampa is the ‘Gateway to Cuba’ and no other airport has the amenities to make the connection to the island so easy and such a pleasure,” said U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-FL, a long-time advocate of air service between Tampa and the island nation. “ Tampa International Airport will help families, businesses, churches, cultural arts groups and even Major League Baseball teams connect to our Cuban neighbors. In doing so we will boost jobs and economic opportunities for the Tampa Bay area and great State of Florida."
Tampa International’s charter flights have served nearly 250,000 people since 2011.
“We are a natural market for service to Cuba given our historical ties. That’s a major reason for the success of the existing flights,” said Tampa International Airport CEO Joe Lopano.
The U.S. and Cuba signed an agreement on Feb. 16 to re-establish regularly scheduled air service between the two countries. That started the clock ticking on a March 2 deadline for airlines to file applications for 20 daily flights to Havana and 10 daily flights to nine other cities.
Airport officials are calling on the Tampa Bay community to show support for the flights.
“It’s a competitive process but we have a compelling argument to make,” said Chris Minner, Tampa International’s Vice President of Marketing. “We have the third largest Cuban-American population in the United States and our business, arts and educational leaders have led countless missions to the island nation. The relationships are here, the demand is here.”
Tampa International currently offers charter service to Havana, Holguin and Santa Clara on JetBlue, American Airlines and Xtra Airways. To support those flights, the airport created the website gotocuba.org, hosted a Cuba Travel Forum and highlighted the flights during Cuba Month celebrations that featured Cuban food, entertainment and travel information.
The flights launched in 2011 with twice weekly service. Today, the airport offers up to nine flights a week. In 2015, more than 73,000 passengers took advantage of the service, a 65% percent increase compared to 2012, which was the first full year of operation. Tampa is the nation’s second largest gateway to Cuba. The flights generate about $1 million a year in revenue for the airport.
Click here to fill out a form supporting nonstop service on JetBlue and Southwest from Tampa International Airport to Havana, Cuba. By filling out and submitting the attached form, you are urging the U.S. Department of Transportation to approve these flights.