TAMPA — More than 40,000 people have traveled back and forth from Cuba using Tampa International Airport since nonstop commercial flights resumed in September 2011. The route was so successful that last summer it went from four to five times a week.
That success made Thursday's news all the more disappointing to TIA, which has been trying to bolster its international flights: The airport announced that it will lose two of those five weekly flights to Cuba starting next month.
Xael Charters told the airport it will cease flights out of Tampa on Feb. 14 so that it can relocate to Fort Lauderdale. There, company officials told the airport, they'll have less competition and grab a bigger market share of the Cuba flights.
ABC Charters, which flies twice a week to Cuba, will end its weekly service to the Cuban city of Holguin on Feb. 28 because of lack of interest, the company told the airport.
But ABC Charters will still fly to Havana on Saturdays. Island Travel & Tours of Tampa will also keep flying to Cuba on Wednesdays and Sundays.
Tampa International spokeswoman Janet Zink said other airports are starting their own routes to Cuba. So it makes sense that market forces may be forcing changes to Tampa's service to Cuba.
"It's been more than 50 years since there's been any service between Tampa and Cuba," Zink said. "Gateways are opening all over the country.
"It's natural to expect that there would be some adjustment as the market evolves."
Neither company could be reached for comment on Thursday.
The Tampa Bay area has the third-largest U.S. population of Cuban-Americans — more than 80,000 people. South Florida is No. 1 and New York is No. 2
The most recent number of people using the Cuba route through Tampa International also looked impressive: In October-November, 5,804 people traveled to Cuba from Tampa. In October-November of 2011, it was 3,764.
That was a rise of 54 percent.
Jamal Thalji can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3404.
Editor's note: This article was changed to reflection the following correction: Island Travel & Tours flies to Cuba from Tampa International Airport on Wednesdays and Sundays. An article on Friday had the incorrect days.