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TAMPA — The coronavirus pandemic is hitting travel in the Tampa Bay area on two different fronts.
At Port Tampa Bay, cruise ship business will be impacted by suspensions announced Friday by Norwegian Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean, two of the four cruise lines that carry more than 1 million passengers a year through Tampa.
Royal Caribbean announced it will suspend cruises in the United States for 30 days starting at midnight Friday and would reach out to customers to help them work through the disruption to their vacations. The Royal Caribbean Brilliance of the Seas had been on the port’s schedule to leave Monday for a five-night cruise to Key West and Nassau, Bahamas.
Norwegian suspended all cruises effective immediately and until April 11 in an effort to help contain the spread of the new coronavirus. On Sunday, the 2,340-passenger Norwegian Dawn was to sail on a seven-day cruise to Costa Maya, Mexico, Harvest Cay, Belize, Roatán in the Bay Islands off the coast of Honduras and Cozumel, Mexico before returning to Tampa on March 22.
Cruises now at sea will conclude, and Norwegian said it will help passengers disembark as soon as possible and make travel arrangements. Norwegian said it had no confirmed cases of coronavirus aboard its 28-ship fleet.
“The safety, security and well-being of our guests and crew is our highest priority," Norwegian president and chief executive officer Frank Del Rio said an announcement of the suspension. “We understand the inconvenience that this disruption may cause our guests and travel partners during these quickly evolving and challenging times, and we appreciate their understanding as we partner with local, state, federal and global agencies to combat the spread of COVID-19.”
Passengers scheduled to cruise during the suspension should contact their travel agent or the cruise line, Norwegian said. They will receive a 125 percent credit for a cruise through Dec. 31, 2022. Passengers who don’t want the credit can get a 100 percent refund.
Port Tampa Bay supported the suspensions.
“The decision by both cruise lines was made independently and in the interest of public safety,” the port said in a statement released through spokeswoman Lisa Wolf-Chason. “We encourage any impacted cruise passengers to contact their travel agent or cruise line directly for more information.”
The port, which has more land (5,000 acres) and moves more tonnage (37 million tons a year) than any port in Florida, said its efforts in recent years to diversify its lines of business “will enable us to be resilient during this global crisis."
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Meanwhile, at Tampa International Airport, spring break is typically the busiest six weeks of the year.
But not this year.
“We can see just by looking around that this is not a typical spring break,” airport spokeswoman Emily Nipps said Friday. “We definitely expect (spring break numbers) to be down.”
Last year the airport got 2.8 million passengers from March 5 through April 9, which was up 7 percent from spring break 2018.
While the number of flights and passenger loads at the airport are down, hard numbers are difficult to come by. Nipps said the airport does not get real-time data on how many passengers walk onto or off of planes. Instead, it gets periodic after-the-fact reports on different schedules from different sources that have to be sifted and compared to determine trends.
“It’s safe to say it’s significant,” Nipps said of the reduction.
Two of Tampa International’s biggest airlines this week announced system-wide reductions. Delta, the second-largest carrier at Tampa International, with 318,000 passengers of the airport’s total 1.9 million passengers in January, said Friday it plans an overall capacity reduction of 40 percent in the next few months. That’s the largest such reduction in its history, the airline said, including after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The coronavirus has depressed demand so much that Delta is seeing more cancellations than bookings for the next month, chief executive officer Ed Bastian said in an email to employees.
American, the third largest carrier with 295,000 passengers in January, said this week it plans to reduce domestic capacity 7.5 percent in April because of reduced demand during the pandemic.
Southwest, the airport’s largest carrier, with nearly 510,000 passengers in January, said this week that it had not suspended any scheduled flights or routes, though it was monitoring developments.
Along with a coronavirus-related reduced demand for travel, airport officials also are seeing an impact on service from the Trump administration’s new restrictions on travel to the U.S. from Europe.
Lufthansa, which carried about 13,000 passengers in January, is suspending its Tampa-to-Frankfurt service until further notice as of Saturday. Edelweiss, which flew about 1,700 passengers between Tampa and Zurich during January, also is suspending air service to Tampa, Nipps said.
St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport, meanwhile, has seen no changes to the number of flights, routes, passenger totals or passenger loads compared with pre-coronavirus operations, deputy director for airport finance and administration Yvette Aehle said in an email Friday.
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READER BEWARE: Look out for bad information as false claims are spreading online.
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