Starting today, JetBlue Airways will be offering daily non-stop flights from Jacksonville International Airport to San Juan, Puerto Rico.
"In the past, people coming from Puerto Rico have had to fly into Orlando and drive to Jacksonville," said Nilda Alejandro, president of the Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce of Northeast Florida. "This makes coming much more attractive."
The Chamber has lobbied for a direct flight for years. The challenge now becomes making sure passengers use it.
"You can never be sure if something will work until you've started offering it," said airport Executive Director Steve Grossman. "But we think the odds are good."
Grossman said Puerto Rico has potential because the majority of cargo to the Jacksonville Port Authority now comes from the island.
Alejandro also estimates there are about 100,000 people of Puerto Rican descent living in Northeast Florida.\
JAA hopes flights to the U.S. territory will be successful and allow the airport to expand into the Caribbean and Latin America, said Grossman.
"This would show service to the Caribbean can be supported," he said. "It also opens up a realistic international door for us."
Despite its name, JIA has no international flights. An effort to expand to Toronto failed 10 years ago because of a lack of passengers.
Martha Pellino, chief financial officer for the Puerto Rico Chamber, said the flights should be successful, but the airport needs to tout them more.
"They have not purchased advertising on Hispanic radio stations," Pellino said, "and I worry that the community doesn't know this is available."
JIA officials said they will advertise where appropriate.
Lyndsay Rossman, spokeswoman for Visit Jacksonville, said the flights should help attract more tourists to Jacksonville.
"Anytime you can get to a city from a direct flight," Rossman said, "it makes the city more attractive."
A flight will depart everyday at 10:23 a.m. and return from San Juan at 5:45 p.m. The airplane is an E-190 with a capacity for about 100 passengers.
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