(December 12, 2016) While most of the Tampa Bay area slept during the pre-dawn hours of Dec. 12, Tampa International Airport’s Airside C buzzed with excitement as it kicked off a celebration filled with festive Latin guitar music, coffee, pastries, straw hats and a beautiful island-shaped cake.
Southwest Airlines, TPA and hundreds of passengers and special guests celebrated a wonderful milestone: The first scheduled commercial flight from Tampa to Cuba in more than 50 years.
The new route flies daily to Havana at 6:15 a.m., returning each evening, and will offer the convenience and great prices passengers have come to expect from Southwest. While Tampa has offered successful charter services to Cuba since 2011, Southwest’s new service will make it easier, more affordable and more accessible for the many Cuba-American families that live in the Tampa Bay areas, as well as U.S. citizens wishing to visit for the first time.
On the morning of Dec. 12, TPA staff, local dignitaries and news media watched the first passengers board the full plane. Among those passengers was Southwest CEO Gary Kelly, who delivered a welcome message both at the gate and on the plane before arriving at the José Martí International Airport a little more than an hour later. There, he was greeted by the Havana airport director, and the two exchanged gifts and kind words.
Southwest is one of only eight airlines given U.S. Department of Transportation authorization to fly to Cuba, and only 20 cities – including Tampa – were granted the nonstop service to Havana. Tampa has the county’s third-largest Cuban-American population and has seen more than 300,000 passengers fly to Cuba since launching charter flights in 2011.
To book a flight to Havana, visit www.southwest.com.