Nonstop flights from Tampa Bay to the Panhandle's best-known beach resort resumed Friday.
The airline isn't exactly a household name. Vision Airlines, based in suburban Atlanta, primarily operates as a charter carrier for casinos, sports teams and the U.S. government.
Vision will operate one round trip four days a week between St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport and Northwest Florida Regional Airport near Destin. The airline will fly Boeing 737s and the Dornier 328, a 30-seat turboprop.
By April 1, Vision plans to fly from 15 cities in the Southeast to Northwest Florida Regional Airport. Destin has long been a popular beach resort for summer vacationers from Southeast states.
Vision stumbled this week, scrapping service from Birmingham, Ala., and Macon, Ga., before the first flights. Birmingham's airport couldn't finish construction of a gate for Vision on time, said David Meers, the airline's chief operating officer, and bookings for Macon were too low.
Other communities that don't support the new flights should expect the same fate, said Greg Donovan, director of Northwest Florida Regional.
"If they don't make sales, the airline will stop flying to that city and go somewhere else,'' he said. Tampa Bay "is a strong, vital market,'' Donovan added.
Vision already flies three weekly charter flights from St. Petersburg-Clearwater International to the Beau Rivage Casino & Resort in Biloxi, Miss.
"We've had a good experience with Vision,'' said Noah Lagos, director of St. Petersburg-Clearwater International.
Meers and Donovan expect business travelers to fill a lot of seats, especially military personnel and contractors traveling between Eglin Air Force Base near Destin and MacDill Air Force Base. The last nonstop from Tampa Bay to Destin ended about three years ago, said Donovan.
On Friday, travelers on the new flight were delighted to fly without changing planes in Atlanta.
"It was an awesome flight,'' said Debbie Crandall, a high school math teacher from Fort Walton Beach visiting her daughter in Dunedin. "Now I don't have to worry about my bags getting lost.''
Vision extended a $19 one-way sale on a limited number of seats between Tampa Bay and Northwest Florida Regional through Sunday. Taxes and fees are extra.
Steve Huettel can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3384.