The Turks and Caicos Islands may still be recovering from the one-two punch of hurricanes Irma and Maria, but that’s not stopping Southwest Airlines from launching daily nonstop service into the British Overseas Territory.
The low-cost carrier launched its newest route Sunday from Fort Lauderdale to Providenciales, Turks and Caicos, offering Caribbean travelers its trademark perks: no fees for bags and changes. Also launched on Sunday by Southwest: nonstop service between Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and Punta Cana, Dominican Republic and San Jose, Costa Rica.
Southwest is the latest carrier to fly into the Turks and Caicos, which last year welcomed service from JetBlue out of Fort Lauderdale. Low-cost carrier Spirit Airlines tried providing service to the islands several years ago between Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and Providenciales and Grand Turk, the capital, but the flights were short-lived after failing to gain traction with tourists and locals.
“Having Southwest Airlines come to the Turks and Caicos at this time is the greatest endorsement the destination could ever have,” said Tourism Minister Ralph Higgs, who was among several tourism and government officials who flew to Miami for a launch reception Saturday night and flew back to the island-chain aboard the inaugural Southwest flight Sunday afternoon. “It says the Turks and Caicos is open for business.”
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Higgs said the Turks and Caicos, which is 609 miles southeast of Fort Lauderdale, is “well on its way to recovery,” after two of its islands, South Caicos and Grand Turk, received direct hits from hurricanes Irma and Maria, and Irma flooded the Providenciales International Airport.
Most of the tourism infrastructure sustained minimal damage, and about 85 percent of the hotels have reopened, the tourism ministry said. Among them is the Gansevoort Turks + Caicos, which recently announced it will open a new property in the chain featuring four- and five-bedrooms oceanfront villas this winter.
Steve Goldberg, Southwest’s senior vice president for hospitality and operations, said while the airlines could have easily pushed back its Turks and Caicos launched date, Southwest felt “a commitment to the island and to bring it into our network and invest in it.”
“It’s important for us to get involved in the community, which we serve and Turks and Caicos is a nice fit for us,” he said.
The addition of flights to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic and San Jose in Costa Rica also are a testament, Goldberg said, to how successful the Caribbean and Latin American routes have been for Southwest. “It complements our network very well,” he said.
This summer, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport unveiled Southwest’s new five-gate international concourse at Terminal 1. It was built by the airlines for $200 million.
Goldberg noted that the airport has come a long way since Southwest launched its first flights from there 21 years ago. The airport has gone from a small operation domestically to one with flights now across Latin America and the Caribbean, he said.