PORT-AU-PRINCE -- Traveling to Haiti just got a bit more competitive.
JetBlue Airways, the low-cost carrier that has become a major player in the South Florida and Caribbean market, said Thursday it plans to begin offering daily nonstop service to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, from New York and Fort-Lauderdale-Hollywood as early as December.
The announcement of JetBlue’s continued expansion into the region comes as a new Haitian start-up prepares for its Mother’s Day inaugural flight from Nassau, Bahamas to Port-au-Prince. The airline, Kombit, will partner with Fort-Lauderdale-based IBC Travel Inc, which currently offers charter services to the northern Haitian city of Cap-Haïtien from Miami and Fort Lauderdale.
As part of the partnership, IBC will enter into a co-share arrangement for its international fights. It is also providing Kombit with Saab 340 turboprops twin-engine turboprop aircrafts for flights between Port-au-Prince and key Haitian cities.
“They see the opportunities that are right now in Haiti,” Dimitri Fouchard, a Haitian airline veteran who is an investor in Kombit, said about IBC, which is also adding flights from West Palm Beach to Cap-Haïtien, Haiti’s second-largest city. IBC now offers direct jet service into Cap-Haïtien from Miami and Fort Lauderdale five times per week.
Currently, Insel Air and legacy carriers American and Air France offer service from Miami to Port-au-Prince; Spirit Airlines and American Eagle also offer direct service from Fort Lauderdale. Delta also flies to Port-au-Prince from Atlanta and New York.“This is great news for Haiti, particularly for the tourism sector,” said Haiti’s Tourism Minister Stephanie Balmir Villedrouin, who met with JetBlue executives in Haiti last month. "I am confident with JetBlue we will be able to plan tourist packages for Haitians living abroad, especially for the youth who want to travel and visit their country of origin."
The expanded travel choices for Haiti visitors come as the country’s government seeks to boost tourism and attract both foreigners and Haitians as vacationers. Several new hotels have opened in recent months, including U.S. and Spanish brands, and hundreds of additional hotel rooms are under construction. The government also is investing in renovating and expanding airports outside the capital.
In October, the Haitian government unveiled a newly asphalted 7,500-foot runway in Cap-Haïtien, the first step in transforming the regional airport into an international hub. Last month, Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe announced that the airport, which is still being renovated, will be renamed in honor of deceased Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.
JetBlue spokeswoman Allison Steinberg said it’s too early to tell whether flights to Cap-Haïtien will be in its future lineup. The airline will begin flying into Haiti’s capital as early as December — just in time for Christmas and pre-carnival celebrations — pending Haitian and U.S. government approval.
“We feel the airport infrastructure can support our operations,’’ she said.
From Port-au-Prince’s Toussaint L’Ouverture International Airport, JetBlue plans to offer one daily nonstop flight to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) and twice daily flights to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL).