Tampa Welcomes Virgin Atlantic’s New Nonstop London Heathrow Service
VS debuts A330neo as the soon-to-be daily route marks Tampa's first-ever nonstop LHR service
Tampa International Airport and Virgin Atlantic kicked off their new relationship in style Wednesday as they celebrated new nonstop service between Tampa Bay and London Heathrow (LHR).
Virgin Atlantic founder Sir Richard Branson greeted the airline’s inaugural flight as its new Airbus A330neo touched down in Tampa Bay for the first time around 2 p.m. Hillsborough County Aviation Authority Chairman Gary Harrod, Airport CEO Joe Lopano and Tampa Mayor Castor also greeted the plane on the airfield, honoring the region’s first-ever nonstop service to the major European hub.
The inaugural LHR-TPA flight, aboard the A330neo named Billie Holiday, carried a delegation of VIPs, including Virgin Atlantic CEO Shai Weiss. Guests aboard the aircraft were treated to an array of the region’s famous cuisine including Cuban sandwiches, key lime pies and Two Tribes Floridian beer.
In a nod to the city’s world-class sports teams, Branson, Weiss and Lopano donned sports jerseys for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tampa Bay Lightning and Tampa Bay Rays, posing for photographs alongside the flight’s cabin crew.
The entire party then gathered in the Main Terminal, where they were joined by Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian, who spoke along with Branson, Weiss, Lopano and Castor.
The new, year-round Tampa Bay service will initially fly four times a week before increasing to daily flights beginning November 28. Tampa Bay is one of the first destinations to experience Virgin Atlantic’s brand-new Airbus A330neo, which is designed to provide a premium, personalized experience for every single customer.
Virgin Atlantic Chief Customer and Operating Officer Corneel Koster led special tours of the aircraft after the press conference. The airline’s Upper Class cabin boasts a brand new seat design, evolution of its iconic social space and the unveiling of the Retreat Suite, the most spacious suite in Virgin Atlantic’s history.
Here’s what VIP guests and Tampa Bay stakeholders had to say:
Sir Richard Branson, President of Virgin Atlantic and Founder of Virgin Group:
“We have double the reasons to celebrate today as we fly our brand-new plane into our latest destination – Tampa Bay. I can’t think of a better way to mark our arrival into this incredible region than by giving passengers the best start to their journeys on our new A330neo.
“Tampa Bay has it all; a year-round warm climate, vibrant nightlife, endless attractions and of course some of the world’s best beaches in St. Pete and Clearwater. Combined with its emerging entrepreneurial mindset, the region simply makes sense for Virgin Atlantic and I can’t wait for our customers to experience all it has to offer.”
Shai Weiss, Virgin Atlantic CEO:
“Today is a significant milestone in Virgin Atlantic’s continued growth, as we get back to our best for our customers and people. Florida has always been our heartland and I’m delighted to be bolstering connectivity to the region with the only direct flight to London Heathrow.
“It’s also fitting that our new route will enjoy our newest aircraft, the A330neo. This plane has evolved our customer experience, with every traveler receiving a premium experience regardless of the cabin they travel in. It also plays a significant role in our multibillion-dollar fleet transformation, demonstrating our commitment to the planet. We know the most impactful thing we can do as an airline is to fly the cleanest, greenest, youngest fleet possible and the A330neo is integral to achieving this goal.”
Gary Harrod, Hillsborough County Aviation Authority Board Chairman:
“The TPA team has done it again. This new service represents a big win for our airport and region and I couldn’t be prouder of what we continue to accomplish thanks to Virgin Atlantic and the support of our partners. This is an exciting time to be in Tampa Bay.”
Joe Lopano, Tampa International Airport CEO:
“Tampa International Airport is delighted to partner with Virgin Atlantic for nonstop service to a world-class destination like London-Heathrow. This route will give our passengers another premier overseas option for both business and leisure, aboard an aircraft that reflects TPA’s commitment to cutting-edge innovation and unparalleled service. We’re excited to support Virgin Atlantic’s continued growth here for many years to come.”
Jane Castor, Mayor of Tampa:
“This is a momentous day, seeing Tampa Bay connected to a major European travel hub like London Heathrow. As a Tampa native and someone who has spent their life in service of this city and this region, it’s exhilarating to see this opportunity come to fruition.”
Santiago Corrada, President and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay:
“Visitors from the U.K. have known for a long time now that Tampa Bay is a prime vacation destination. We’re happy to welcome them with this new nonstop flight on Virgin Atlantic and we’re excited about this opportunity to grow together.”
Steve Hayes, President & CEO of Visit St. Pete Clearwater:
“For years, Virgin Holidays has sold more than a dozen hotels along our beautiful beaches. Virgin Atlantic’s new nonstop flight offers a wonderful new option for even more U.K. visitors to enjoy our famous hospitality.”
Craig Richard, President and CEO of the Tampa Bay EDC:
“It's hard to overstate the economic benefits that Virgin Atlantic’s new nonstop flights to such a major destination brings to our region. The Tampa Bay EDC is committed to ensure this partnership thrives.”
Bob Rohrlack, President and CEO of the Tampa Bay Chamber:
“Bringing nonstop service from a major economic hub like London Heathrow to TPA is a guaranteed benefit for the 100 U.K.-based businesses located here in Tampa Bay. Everybody wins when our business community succeeds.”
Chris Steinocher, President and CEO of the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce:
“We’re thrilled to welcome this new European route in Tampa Bay, and the economic impact this route to London Heathrow is sure to bring is great news for our entire region.”
Dana Young, President and CEO of VISIT FLORIDA:
“VISIT FLORIDA is thrilled to celebrate Virgin Atlantic’s inaugural flight from London to Tampa. The U.K. is vital to Florida’s tourism industry, historically serving as our No. 1 overseas market. With Virgin Atlantic’s new Tampa route, we are looking forward to even more visitation growth and showing our British and Irish travelers everything our great state has to offer.”