TAMPA, Fla. (FOX 13) - If you want to fly from Tampa to anywhere in South or Central America, you’ll have to go through Panama City, Panama.
“From that hub in Panama City, you can get anywhere in Latin America with a very short connection time,” explained Kenneth Strickland, Tampa airport’s director of air service.
Strickland admits, however, that Panama City isn’t typically a traveler’s final destination.
“We know on any given day, how many people fly between Tampa International Airport and any place in the world,” he said. “We can come up with a very specific number.”
And those numbers have put the wheels up in motion for three new future non-stop destinations.
“We’ve identified three specific markets in Latin America to focus on: Mexico City, Mexico; Bogotá, Colombia, and Lima, Peru,” Strickland said.
Census data shows a Colombian population in the Tampa area of at least 36,000. But if you want to catch a flight to see family in Bogotá, it’s planes, trains and automobiles.
“Unfortunately about 70 percent of those passengers going on to Bogotá, for instance, are going out of other airports,” he said. “In fact, over half of the Tampa Bay passengers going to Colombia, are going to Orlando to get there.”
It’s an unfortunate reality Kathryn Houapaya-Carrillo‘s family knows all too well.
“My family is from Colombia and Peru,” Houapaya-Carrillo said. “Usually my grandparents have to go from Orlando to Colombia, Colombia to Orlando. So it is hectic a lot of the times.”
Carrillo’s family has also traveled through Panama, but she says, even that could be a hassle.
“One time my grandparents lost their luggage in Panama, so they had to wait another week for it when they got here,” she explained.
It’s enough of a reason for her to be on board with better options.
"It would be very convenient,” she said. “It would be quicker to get here, wouldn't have to worry about luggage."
The airport works with a company that gives them the ZIP code your credit card is registered to, along with your travel bookings. Strickland says that’s how they know not only where you went, but how you got there.