TIA petitions for non-stop flights to Cuba

- Seven airways around the country are competing for the chance to offer non-stop flights to Cuba, including at least two carriers out of Tampa.

For its part, Tampa International Airport has posted a petition on its website encouraging passengers to urge the U.S. Department of Transportation to approve the commercial flights.

Many travelers in Tampa said a trip to Cuba is on their wish list.

"The key word would be 'mysterious.' Not a lot of people I have known have gone there," said Linda Kipp. "I think it would be a nice tourist destination."

Both JetBlue and Southwest Airlines have filed for the rights to serve Cuba with the Department of Transportation (DOT). Their list of stops would include flights to Havana from Tampa, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale.

Five other airlines have filed for Cuban flights, including Delta, American, Alaskan, United and Silver Airways. Silver could include one stop service in Tampa as well, according to some reports.

Other carriers are looking to airports in Miami, New York and Dallas-Forth Worth for their service to Cuba, which would take big travel dollars away from Tampa.

In the petition posted on tampaairport.com, TIA officials said the airport currently offers up to nine flights to Cuba a week. It's a 65-percent increase compared to 2012, making Tampa the nation's second largest gateway to Cuba.

"If I have a chance, I will go," said Jim Neziri, who is originally from Macedonia. "I come from a communist country also, I want to see the difference and if anything has changed." 

There are just 20 daily, round-trip slots available for U.S. carriers to fly to Havana, although there are already twice as many flight requests, according to the DOT.

It expects to assign the routes by this summer, with commercial service beginning as soon as this fall.

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