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JetBlue Airways has come a long way since launching operations in early 2000 with a single flight from New York to Fort Lauderdale.
Fourteen years later, the New York-based airline now operates 65 daily departures from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, with plans to grow that footprint to 100 daily flights by 2017.
On Thursday it added three more destinations from Fort Lauderdale: Port of Spain in Trinidad & Tobago, Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic and Montego Bay in Jamaica. The once-daily flights will depart Fort Lauderdale at 7 a.m.; 11:05 a.m. and 12:17 p.m. respectively based on current schedules.
Passengers departing on the inaugural flights Thursday at Gate F1 in Terminal 3 were feted with island snacks and goodies and entertained with sounds of Latin and calypso music as they waited to board the jam-packed flights.
New Yorkers Sandra DiCostanzo, 26, and Anthony Mazzilli, 28, who were headed to Punta Cana on JetBlue Flight 173 for a much needed vacation, were surprised to learn it was a launch flight.
“It’s exciting,” said DiConstanzo of the festivities.
“It was a nice surprise,” Megan Chilcott of Orlando said of the celebrations. She was traveling to Punta Cana to celebrate a friend’s birthday. “I travel JetBlue regularly and I love the service.”
Travelers flying on JetBlue flight 2315 to Montego Bay also were excited.
“I’m thrilled JetBlue is now flying to my hometown of Montego Bay,” said Marcia Berry of Lauderhill, who was on standby, hoping to visit with relatives. “I’m praying to get on.”
System-wide, JetBlue carries more than 30 million passengers annually to 84 cities in the U.S., Caribbean and Latin America.
“When we look at prospects for growth at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood, we see just a massive opportunity,” Ian Deason, JetBlue’s vice president, airports, said during the festivities.
Infrastructural improvements — including the new south runway set to open in September and terminal expansion and enhancement projects — are essential factors facilitating JetBlue’s growth at the airport, Deason added.
The new Caribbean destinations were a “logical step” for JetBlue given the demographics in South Florida and its previous success with some of the routes from gateways such as New York and Boston, he noted.
Airport officials said JetBlue’s new routes reaffirm its commitment to this market.
“It’s definitely a step forward,” said Doug Webster, the airport’s deputy director aviation.
Last year JetBlue added five new nonstop routes from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood: Medellin, Colombia; San Jose, Costa Rica; Worcester, Mass.; Lima, Peru and Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
In October, it will add new service between Fort Lauderdale and Pittsburgh, while nonstop service to Albany, N.Y. is on tap for 2015.
JetBlue accounted for 18.8 percent of passenger traffic at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood this year through March — making it its top carrier, airport records show.
The Montego Bay route complements JetBlue’s service to Kingston, Jamaica that launched April 30, 2012, island officials said Thursday.
“It will satisfy the needs of tourists as the Kingston flight did for the Jamaica Diaspora,” said Donnie Dawson, the Jamaica Tourist Board’s deputy director of tourism, Americas. “JetBlue has a strong reputation and brand in the marketplace and this flight will definitely help our tourism.”
By the numbers
18.8: Percentage of passenger traffic at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood January to March 2014
65: Number of daily departures flown today
100: Daily departures goal by 2017
1,000+: Number of employees in South Florida
Source: Sun Sentinel Research ___