Pirates welcome British travelers to Tampa, on first international flight since pandemic

The British are coming! For the first time since the pandemic started in March of 2020, Tampa International Airport has welcomed a direct flight from Europe.

When British Airways Flight 2167 touched down, it marked not only a boost for Florida's economy, it also represented a symbolic step in the recovery.

The first passengers from London Gatwick to Tampa, Florida got the royal Tampa treatment, pirates and all.

"We are just very excited about being back in this lovely country with this beautiful weather," said traveler Clif Andrews.

The flight represents the return of normalcy few have had since March of 2020. This had been a signature daily flight, and they expect it to be again soon. It will run five days for now, and all seven, in short order, airport officials said.

Under rules implemented a week ago by the Biden administration, all passengers had to prove they're vaccinated to enter.

"There are people who have spent decades taking their families here to our beautfiul white sand beaches," said airport vice president Chris Minner. "They have been eager to be on these flights."

Indeed, the inbound flight was full, especially with people who said they were headed to Sarasota County to reconnect with vacation homes, favorite hotels, Airbnbs and long-lost friends.

"It is just back to normal, isn't it? We have missed it really a great deal," said Valerie Unsworth.

And we've collectively missed the economic impact the daily flight brings. The airport estimates this British Invasion brings over $150 million a year to Tampa Bay. 

"We have missed it an awful lot," said Andrews. "I think now we are just keen to get there and have a quick shower and go out and have a nice beer."

The overall number of passengers is on track to be down only around 2% from 2019. Yesterday, on November 14, the number of travelers was 9% more it was in 2019.