Tampa International Airport is spreading its wings now that its reach expands all the way to the Northwest with the newest addition of a direct flight to Seattle.
The first Alaska Airlines flight from Seattle arrived in Tampa Friday afternoon at around 5:30 p.m. More than 160 passengers were greeted by a live reggae band, a saxophonist and flamingos from Busch Gardens. Free Starbucks, smoothies and a Tampa/Seattle-themed cake were also part of the warm welcoming.
The Tampa/Seattle route is the number three underserved market in the U.S., meaning that there were many people traveling between the two cities by making two or even three connections, says Emily Nipps, communications manager at Tampa International.
“Having this direct route is going to bring so many more people from the Pacific Northwest to this area that may not have come here before just because it's so hard to get over here,” Nipps said. “Likewise, it's easy access for us to get out to Seattle.”
Frequent flyers from Seattle couldn’t agree more.
“I’m so happy. [This flight] saved my life,” passenger Gail Studeman said. “I usually have to have a big long layover in Atlanta. Now, it’s five and a half hours as opposed to eight. It’s amazing.”
“The nonstop flight makes it a much shorter day getting from Seattle to visit the grandparents in Sarasota,” passenger Jeremy Ritzer said. “Before we would travel through Dallas or Chicago, so this is much more convenient.”
Tampa residents are just as happy about the new addition to Tampa International.
"I am ecstatic about it," Autumn Ward, who boarded the first flight to Seattle, said. "We couldn't have asked for anything better."
Prices for the Seattle flight are as low as $170 one-way.
The flight is already sold-out for the summer, said Christopher Minner, vice president of marketing for Tampa International.
“Every single seat on that airplane coming into Tampa tonight was full. Every single seat flying out is going to be full.”
The newest addition to the Tampa International Airport will enable business travelers to go to and from Seattle, one the nation's biggest technology hubs.
The Tampa/Seattle flight is getting great results, even though the campaign to catch the attention of Seattle residents hasn’t even been initiated.
“The flight is selling so well for Tampa residents to go to the Northwest for the summer that we're not going to even start the ‘Sunshine Is the New Caffeine’ campaign until the Fall,” D.T. Minich, executive director at Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater, said.
That campaign will feature advertisements touting Tampa Bay posted throughout Seattle. Visit St. Pete Clearwater will also have Segways throughout downtown Seattle and are looking into sponsoring coffee cup sleeves in local coffee shops, Minich said.
The campaign will target Seattle residents around the time when temperatures start dropping and people start wanting to visit warmer climates. Instead of going to Hawaii or Mexico, officials at Tampa International and Alaska Airlines hope that residents will want to come to Tampa now that there is a direct flight.
Alaska Airlines is one of the most profitable airlines in the world, Minner said.
“For them to choose to come to Tampa International Airport is a huge vote of confidence for us. It’s also a signal to the other airlines of the world.”
In recent years, Tampa International also added nonstop flights to Switzerland, Panama and Cuba. The most recent additions have been Los Angeles and Seattle.
This is just the beginning, Joe Lopano, Tampa International Airport chief executive officer, said on Friday.
“We want to get San Francisco. It’s a big market. We will work twice as hard to get San Francisco as our next nonstop.”