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Tampa International starts Facebook page to drive up interest in getting direct flights to San Francisco

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Travelers leaving from Tampa International Airport can now get direct flights now to Havana, Zurich and Panama City, Panama – all major breakthroughs that have been accomplished in the era since Joe Lopano took over at TPA back in 2011. But they still cannot get a direct flight to San Francisco.

Marketing officials with the airport are adding a new element to make that a reality by creating a Facebook page called #TPA2SF. The page urges local travelers in the Tampa Bay area to explain why the airlines should invest in such a service at TPA.

“This non-stop route from Tampa to the San Francisco Bay Area is the top domestic priority of Tampa International,  and we just wanted an opportunity to demonstrate the enthusiasm pent up demand that community has for this route,” said airport spokesman Danny Valentine. ” There’s a lot of numbers that talk about how this is the most undeserved route in the country, ,and we wanted to put a face to that.”

The Facebook page went live Thursday morning, and the responses have begun to flow in.

“I grew up in Tampa and moved to the SF Bay Area over a year ago,” writes Harish Chamarthy. “It’s hard to make the trip between the two cities because of the connection involved. Having a nonstop would really benefit those that want to go back to Tampa (and there are plenty of those people by the way). If we can support a nonstop to Seattle then we can make this happen as well.”

“Tired of flying from Orlano (sic) to LA and SF and add Seattle too,” writes Deborah Kalinoski. “Nonstop is the only way I will fly to west coast of USA. Quicker to drive to Orlando than take flights from Tampa due to lay overs and any potential issues. If Tampa could have direct flights to West Coast of USA then I would most defineatly fly out of Tampa and also encourage others from west coast to fly into Tampa.”

Major carriers will only commit to a direct flight if it makes sense financially for them. TPA officials are well aware of that, but say that these anecdotal comments can be another “tool in the toolbox” that can help sell such flights.

When Lopano was hired from Dallas in 2010 to take over as CEO at TPA, one of the mandates he was put under by the Hillsborough Aviation Authority was to work on acquiring more direct international flights. He’s done that with the airport now offering non-stops to destinations like Frankfurt, Germany, Panama City and Havana.

Domestically, Seattle and San Francisco have always been at the top of that list, as well. Seattle was checked off two years ago with direct flights via Alaska Airlines, but the City by the Bay remains an elusive location.

Last fall, airport officials say that five-days a week direct international flights from Tampa to Frankfurt were expected to have an annual economic impact on the Tampa Bay region of $97 million and to create roughly 680 jobs. 

TPA spokesman Danny Valentine says he didn’t have any economic figures to quote on what a direct flight to San Francisco could have for the Tampa Bay area, but said it would be formidable.

“Tthis is very important for economic development as well as tourism,” he says. “This would help our businesses, help grow the tech community, help recruit new companies and help facilitate growth in general.”

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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