As American Airlines prepares to launch once-daily direct flights between here and Miami on Thursday, the service is already proving popular.
Due to high demand, the airline added an extra flight on the first day and four more spread throughout the month, Transportation and Works Minister Kye Rymer announced in the House of Assembly. His message was met with applause from audience members who came to witness the swearing-in of the new House and its speakers.
In addition to the regularly scheduled daily flights — which will depart Miami at 10:25 a.m. and Beef Island at 2:30 p.m. — one extra round-trip will be offered next Thursday and on June 3, 9, 16 and 30, according to Mr. Rymer, who didn’t announce the departure times of the additional flights.
“I invite our entire territory to the airport on the first of June,” he added. “Walk with your flags; walk with your families, friends. Let’s give them a [VI] welcome when American [Airlines] lands here in the territory.”
Mr. Rymer also gave related updates during his HOA statement, including announcing a draft proclamation from Tamarac, Florida City Commissioner Morey Wright Jr. declaring June 1 “Virgin Islands Day” in the city.
The commissioner, a Virgin Islander, will present the territory the “keys to the city” during a ceremony Mr. Rymer plans to attend, he said.
“This will help to advertise and signal the significance of this step for the territory from a business and tourism and trade standpoint,” Mr. Rymer added.
According to an excerpt of the draft proclamation, which Mr. Rymer read aloud, Virgin Islanders have “a friendship and familial ties” with the Florida city.
“The city of Tamarac has Virgin Islanders who served the community on the police force, owned small businesses and is home to the family of [a Virgin Islander] NFL star,” Mr. Rymer read. “The [Virgin Islands] is recognised as a premier vacation for residents.”
The direct flights come after more than 10 years of failed attempts by successive governments to secure direct flights to the US mainland, as well as vigorous debate about whether such flights were even possible without a major airport expansion.
British Caribbean Airways launched a VI-Miami service in 1986, but it closed the same year after American Airlines began operating in the region. The transportation challenge grew bigger when American Eagle, an American Airlines affiliate that linked the VI to Puerto Rico, ended 27 years of service in the Caribbean in 2013.
Since then, VI leaders have been trying to improve local airlift as ticket prices skyrocketed and passengers increasingly opted to fly to St. Thomas and take a ferry to enter this territory.
Ongoing efforts have also led to many dead-ends as previous administrations pursued a two-pronged approach: extending the Beef Island runway to accommodate larger aircraft; and heavily subsiding a now-defunct airline — BVI Airways — with planes small enough to operate on the existing runway but large enough to make it to the US.