Scheduled service from Tampa to Havana, Cuba just got a lot closer.
On Thursday morning, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced its preliminary decision to award Tampa daily nonstop service to Havana aboard Southwest Airlines. The new service could begin by the end of the year.
“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. Our community provided a solid and consistent voice in this most recent proceeding, with dozens of letters filed in the docket in support of commercial flights from Tampa to Havana and nearly 6,000 people signing an online petition in support of the flights.”
The DOT will take comments for a few weeks before making the decision final. The new service is a major victory for the Tampa Bay region, which is home to the third largest Cuban population in the United States.
U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, said the flights will enhance Tampa Bay’s connection to Cuba.
"Direct, commercial flights between Tampa and Havana, Cuba, will strengthen family ties and open our communities to greater engagement and progress. 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. Tampa International Airport was successful due in large part to a united community that for years has relayed their support for these flights and for increasing engagement between our community and the island nation. Commercial flights will enhance the impact of existing charter flights, boost jobs and economic opportunities for the Tampa Bay area and our state. As more Americans and Floridians are able to connect with everyday Cubans, we will continue to improve communication, human rights and support entrepreneurs in Cuba and in Tampa Bay. Just yesterday, TIA was named one of travelers’ favorites because of its ease of use and amenities, and I encourage our businesses, families, churches and cultural art groups to continue their support for these flights for our airport until the proposal is finalized. As the ‘Gateway to Cuba,’ I expect Tampa Bay will surpass the expectations of our region as well as travelers.”
TPA has offered charter service to Cuba since 2011 and the airport averages about seven charter flights per week. To date, nearly 270,000 passengers have traveled to and from Cuba. TPA currently serves four cities: Havana, Santa Clara, Holguin and Camaguey.
“I extend a sincere thank you to all the leaders in this community who have been instrumental in growing the relationship between Tampa and Cuba. And many, many thanks to U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, who has been a tremendous leader on this journey from the very beginning,” Lopano said.
Southwest Airlines is Tampa’s largest airline carrier making up about 35 percent of all flights. In addition to Tampa, Southwest also won nonstop service from Ft. Lauderdale.
“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. “Today’s green light ushers the next phase of our Countdown to Cuba and we’ll soon provide more details about our service this year.”
On Thursday, the U.S. DOT proposed eight airlines to begin scheduled passenger service to Havana, capping off months of competition for the ability to fly to the Cuban capital.
The airlines winning approval for Havana service were American, Delta, United, Southwest, Spirit, Alaska, Frontier and JetBlue.
Many thanks to the following organizations who lent their voices to the US DOT Cuba commercial air service proceedings:
AdSizzle; Al Fox, Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy; Brian Lamb, Fifth Third Bank; Caribbean American Children Foundation; Cuban Arts Group; DiMaio & Associates; Domingo and Olga Noriega; Eckerd College; Edward Miller, Colliers International; Florida Orchestra; Florida Aquarium; The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce; The Hillsborough County Economic Development Corporation; John Fogarty, JRB Solutions; Kimmins Contracting Corp.; La Gaceta; Lance Ponton, Cordoba Development Companies; St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman; Moffitt Cancer Center; Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long; Port Tampa Bay; Robert Nathan, Moffatt & Nichol; Ron Christaldi, Attorney; St. Pete Downtown Partnership; St. Petersburg City Council Chair Amy Foster; Tampa City Council; Tampa Bay Partnership; Tampa Bay Rays; Tampa Museum of Art; University of South Florida; Visit Tampa Bay; University of Tampa; U.S. Rep. David Jolly; U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor.