UPDATE 8/31/16: The US government granted eight airlines permission to begin commercial flights to Havana. Flights could begin as early as this fall. It was announced July 7 of this year that Southwest was among the airlines that were in the running for this opportunity; departing from Tampa and Ft. Lauderdale.
This historic news only adds to the buzz around Tampa International Airport, which also scored direct flights from our city to the tech industry hub of San Francisco this summer after an outpouring of support from the community. Currently, Southwest accounts for 35% of all flights out of TPA.
The first commercial flight between the US and Cuba in over five decades arrived in the city of Santa Clara on August 31, departing from Ft. Lauderdale earlier that morning. “Transportation has a unique role in this historic initiative and we look forward to the benefits these new services will provide to those eligible for Cuba travel,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said.
Tampa International Airport speculates that there could be direct flights from Tampa to Havana by year’s end. TIA began charter flights to Cuba in 2011 and averages about 7 per week. Nearly 270,000 people have taken advantage of the nonstop service over the course of 5 years.
Thursday morning, the US Department of Transportation announced its decision to award Tampa daily nonstop service to Havana aboard Southwest Airlines. “This is such an exciting day for us,” said Tampa International Airport CEO Joe Lopano. “The DOT’s decision reflects the strength of our market and the unprecedented support of leaders and travelers throughout the Tampa Bay area.” 6,000 residents signed an online petition in support of the service.
“Tampa is an important ‘Gateway to Cuba’ and, as one of only 10 U.S. cities to win direct commercial flights to Havana today, will expand opportunities over the coming years,” said US Rep. Kathy Castor. “commercial flights will enhance the impact of existing charter flights, boost jobs and economic opportunities for the Tampa Bay area and our state.”
TPA notes that Southwest accounts for 35 percent of all flights out of Tampa. “Southwest stands poised to offer historic service to Cuba for our loyal customers in Tampa Bay who have made Southwest the most relevant and valued air service option in Florida,” said Brad Hawkins, Senior Advisor, Commercial Communications for Southwest.
This is an exciting time for Tampa residents who have long desired to visit Havana. TPA is also campaigning to add nonstop service to San Francisco to much local fanfare. With this brand new connection, Tampa continues to become a beacon for international travel and a gateway to new experiences.