TAMPA — Norwegian Airlines announced Monday it will start direct flights twice a week between Tampa International Airport and London's Gatwick Airport effective Oct. 31, giving TIA another highly prized international flight and a new choice for budget-conscious travelers.
Bookings are available online at Norwegian's web site with introductory one-way economy fares starting about $215.
It's hard to overstate the importance of the United Kingdom to tourism on the gulf coast, Visit St. Pete-Clearwater President & CEO David Downing said.
"It's our No. 1 inbound market," he said. "When we can bring in a new carrier and stimulate demand because of what that carrier brings with them, that's an opportunity for us to grow tourism."
The new service also brings a couple of firsts for Tampa International:
• It will be the first regularly scheduled service at TIA flying Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner jets, known for their quiet, comfy rides and good fuel efficiency. They have 309 economy seats and 35 premium seats.
• It will be the first time Tampa passengers have a choice of two nonstop airlines to the same European city. British Airways already flies daily between Tampa and Gatwick, but Norwegian touts itself as the world's sixth largest low-cost airline. A check on Monday for a Tampa-to-London round trip on the same days in November found Norwegian's introductory air fares $379 and $412 lower on the outbound and return legs, respectively, than on British Airways.
Tampa airport officials hope that choice persuades more Tampa fliers to fly from their home town, not from Orlando, which has several air carriers with service to London and thus, more competition and a variety of fares. Fifty-five percent of Tampa area residents who fly to London catch their flight from Orlando.
Bringing in Norwegian is "about getting our passengers back and ensuring that they don't have to drive to Orlando to find a product that's appropriate for them," said Kenneth Strickland, Tampa International's director of research and air service development.
Not only that, but Tampa needs more seats on flights to London. It currently accounts for 13 percent of Florida's total air traffic to London, but has only 6 percent of the state's seats to London.
Norwegian is getting the same incentive package that international carriers like Lufthansa and Copa have gotten from TIA: a two-year waiver of fees and marketing money to help support the flight for the first two years.
Landing Norwegian also could open future opportunities for flights to other European cities it serves, such as Paris, Barcelona and Stockholm, Strickland said.
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With Norwegian Air, Tampa International now has seven international carriers and flies to more than a dozen cities around the world. The airport has seen a more than 120 percent increase in international passenger growth since 2011.
"As our community continues to grow, the airport is growing with it," Tampa International Airport president and CEO Joe Lopano said in an announcement of the new flights. "We expect this to be a very popular service, particularly for our British visitors, and we look forward to a great partnership with Norwegian in coming years."
The Norwegian flights will fly out of Tampa at 10:50 p.m. Wednesdays, arriving in London at 10:45 a.m. Thursdays.
On Saturdays, flights will leave at 10 p.m. with arrival in London at 9:55 a.m. Sundays.
From London, the flights will leave Wednesdays at 2:55 p.m. to arrive in Tampa at 8:35 p.m., and on Saturdays at 2:05 p.m. to arrive in Tampa at 7:45 p.m.
Introductory fares will start at $214.90 one-way in economy and $604.90 one-way in premium, which includes a dedicated check-in counter, fast-tracked security screening, lounge access at selected airports, large and wide recliner seats with ample legroom, all meals and drinks and other benefits.
"Tampa Bay will be a very popular destination amongst European travelers," Norwegian chief commercial officer Thomas Ramdahl said in a statement released through TIA. "Similarly, Europe is in high demand among Tampa Bay and Florida residents."
Contact >Richard Danielson