Tampa International Airport is becoming a little more, well, international.
JetBlue Airways will begin flying daily between TIA and Cancun on Dec. 18, providing the Tampa Bay area's only nonstop service to Mexico.
"Working together to secure this new international route demonstrates that JetBlue is putting its planes where strong growth opportunities exist," said Louis Miller, executive director of Tampa International.
Airport officials have long struggled to persuade airlines to launch international routes from Tampa. Locals can fly nonstop to only three international destinations — London, Toronto and the Cayman Islands — throughout the year.
Carriers prefer concentrating overseas flights at hub airports like Atlanta, Miami and New York, where they can fill planes with passengers flown in from dozens of other cities.
Northwest Airlines discontinued Tampa-Cancun flights in 2000. AirTran Airways and Spirit Airlines scrapped plans for daily flights on the route in 2005 after Hurricane Wilma battered the Mexican resort city.
JetBlue should have better luck, Miller said. The airline will fly its 100-seat Embraer jets on the route. Nearly 54 passengers flew between Tampa and Cancun daily on connecting flights, according to a 2005 study commissioned by the airport. Many more customers should fly the nonstop, Miller said.
"The Tampa Bay region has been asking for consistent, affordable Mexico service," he said. "Now that it's here, we have to support it." Fares will start at $99 one way, not including taxes and fees.
Steve Huettel can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3384.