Tampa Bay leaders rubbed shoulders with celebrity businessman and Virgin Atlantic founder Sir Richard Branson on Wednesday to mark the debut of the airline’s nonstop route from Tampa International Airport to London’s Heathrow Airport.
Branson, clad in a Tampa Bay Buccaneers jersey, met with Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, Hillsborough County Aviation Authority Chairman Gary Harrod and TIA CEO Joe Lopano on the tarmac as they greeted the arrival of Virgin Atlantic’s Airbus 330neo, whose passenger manifest, according to a news release, included Virgin Atlantic CEO Shai Weiss. Guests aboard the aircraft were treated to an array of Tampa Bay cuisine, including Cuban sandwiches, key lime pies and Two Tribes Floridian beer.
“We have double the reasons to celebrate as we fly our brand-new plane into our latest destination — Tampa Bay,” Branson states in the release. “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.”
First announced in July, the new, year-round Tampa-London service will initially fly four times a week before increasing to daily flights beginning Nov. 28, the release states. Tampa 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 passenger.
“This is a momentous day, seeing Tampa Bay connected to a major European travel hub like London Heathrow,” Castor states in the release. “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.”