Hopes for expanded tourism growth in the Tampa Bay area are riding on the wings of a new non-stop flight between Tampa and Seattle.
The new daily flights out of Tampa International Airport will take just under six hours, so they could also be a coup for business travelers heading to the tech corridors of the Pacific Northwest, airport officials say.
Alaska Airlines’ inaugural flight from Seattle — a full flight carrying 162 passengers — was scheduled to land on Tampa soil at 5:30 p.m. today, with a flock of Busch Gardens pink flamingos on hand to greet the arriving passengers. A returning flight to Seattle was set to take off at 6:30 p.m. The daily flights, through August, are as low as $170 one way.
Landing the non-stop flight took three years, multiple meetings and involved lots of cheerleading from local tourism agencies, said Chris Minner, vice president of marketing for Tampa International.
Making this connection with Alaska Airlines was not only a coupe for the airport, but for the region, local tourism officials say.
It will be well worth the work in terms of economic impact, said D.T. Minich, executive director of St. Petersburg/Clearwater Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, a group that has pledged $100,000 to Alaska Airlines to help market the flight over the next two years.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity for us,” Minich said. Typically, he said, Seattle-area residents fly to Hawaii or Mexico for beach vacations. Now, they have a warm-water option that also offers a better value as far as hotel rates, he said.
“We’ve seen an increase in business from the west for families not too wild about going to Mexico,” Minich said. “It’s a great opportunity to introduce Pacific Northwesterners to these phenomenal beaches here. We will also promote dual destination type vacations, as well, since we are only 90 minutes from the Orlando theme parks.
“We’ve not only got theme parks, but outlet malls and phenomenal museums, restaurants and great culture. For families, especially, it will be a great opportunity.”
“This is really ground-breaking for us,” said Julio Soto, director of product development for AAA-The Auto Club Group. “Alaska, historically, has been one of our No. 1 sellers as a destination that our members gravitate toward,” and many of the cruises depart from Seattle, he said. “We’ve always been very bullish in selling the Alaska cruise experience. We move thousands of passengers in and out of that northwest corridor every year.
“This is very appealing to past passengers and it may open the door to potential new customers to this area,” Soto said. “There has never been non-stop from Tampa to Seattle and every flier wants to fly non-stop,” he said. Non-stop flights on Alaska Airlines are already offered out of Orlando, but most travelers don’t want to drive that far to an airport, he said. “We’re very excited.”
The new flights also fulfill a long-term goal for Tampa International Airport — to create non-stop flights to the Pacific Northwest and on an airline known for its passenger amenities and good financial performance.
Alaska Airlines benefits, as well.
“This is a great option for our customers — saving hours round-trip — and for us, it further strengthens our growing U.S. route network,” said Halley Griffin Knigge, with Alaska Airlines’ corporate communications. “I am told by the Port of Seattle that Tampa was previously the largest unserved city out of Sea-Tac (Seattle-Tacoma International) Airport, with no nonstop flight option between Seattle and Tampa.”
Even before this flight was introduced, some 320 passengers a day have been flying between Tampa and Seattle on various airlines. It was the third busiest U.S. route not served by a non-stop flight.
Alaska Airline’s inaugural nonstop flight from Seattle wasn’t greeted at the Tampa airport with a customary welcome that involves spraying a fountain of water on each side of the plane as it enters the Airside, airport spokeswoman Janet Zink.
The tradition has been suspended because of an incident that occurred several weeks ago when a Japan Airlines flight arrived with a Japanese soccer team to play a friendly match in Tampa. During that welcome, the tip of the plane’s wing hit the boom on a firetruck, she said, breaking the light on the wing.
In any event, Tampa International wouldn’t have greeted Alaska Airlines with the water welcome, because the airline doesn’t like it, Zink said.