Gainesville to Miami flights start with fanfare

The first flight from Miami landed here 20 minutes late.


Lilliana Rubiera dances with Alberta and the American Eagle mascot Friday at Gainesville Regional Airport.

Erica Brough/ Staff photographer
Published: Friday, October 1, 2010 at 5:40 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, October 1, 2010 at 5:40 p.m.

The first American Eagle 64-seat turboprop from Miami landed at Gainesville Regional Airport at 1:10 p.m. Friday, 20 minutes late, and was promptly greeted by a water salute as two Gainesville fire tankers sprayed water in high arcs over the plane.

The arrival was the culmination of festivities to kick off the new twice-daily flights between Gainesville and Miami after a ceremony in the terminal lobby crowded with local business and government leaders and airline officials.

Passengers seemed amused by all the attention to their flights into and out of Gainesville, most unaware before the event that theirs were the first.

"As soon as I found out that you could fly down there I got a ticket, however I didn't know that it would be the first ticket, or the first flight at least," said Jesse Novak, 35, of Gainesville, who was flying to Miami for a wedding. "I didn't want to have to drive five hours. I've done that drive one too many times."

Curt Bass, a flight scheduler for American, said bookings are showing strong demand between the two cities, as well as to Central and South America, Mexico and Europe.

American Eagle is a regional carrier for American Airlines, linking Gainesville to more than 100 international and domestic routes from the Miami hub.

Airport CEO Allan Penksa credited Bass, a Miami native and 1984 University of Florida graduate, with promoting the route for nearly 20 years.

"When I was a student here in the ‘80s, Eastern Airlines and Air Florida flew mainline jets between Gainesville and Miami, and they were full all the time," Bass said, "so I always knew there was a market between Gainesville and Miami. American's hub with 300 daily departures to over 100 destinations is much larger than Eastern ever was, so I couldn't be more excited about the possibilities that exist today."

Nita Maercks, of Miami, who identified her age as "senior," was among the first incoming fliers. She said she used to fly the route while her children were in school here but before Friday had had to take the bus to visit friends here since those routes ended.

Blake Lococo, 21, of Miami, flew in to visit his girlfriend, a UF law student.

Alexandra Blake, 19, a sophomore at UF, was heading the other direction to visit her parents in Miami for the weekend.

UF has more than 9,000 UF students from Dade and Broward counties, said Jane Adams, vice president for university relations, as well as many faculty, staff, parents and visitors interested in the time-saving flights.

Willie Hrubec and Annette Hillier flew from New York to Miami to Gainesville to visit their daughter Janine Hillier, a lacrosse player at UF. They said they travel for every game.

"We've been going to Orlando and driving up, or to Jacksonville," Hrubec said.

Several speakers at the ceremony touted the business recruitment and other benefits of the service to Gainesville.

"This will provide the necessary link for people from all over the world to come to our city so we can showcase Gainesville, so we can increase economic development and academic achievements at the University of Florida and Santa Fe College," Mayor Craig Lowe said.

Contact Anthony Clark at 374-5094.

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