June 8, 2018
Some of the passengers on Thursday’s Flight 2855 into Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport had no clue what was going on when their jet was sprayed with a water cannon coming in. Then, they got another surprise when they stepped into the terminal and people were clapping and cheering while the Ukulele Orchestra of St. Andrews was belting out tunes to greet them. The passengers — also given a commemorative airport souvenir bag filled with items from tourism partners and cookies — might not have known it, but they were on the inaugural American Airlines flight from Charlotte, N.C., to ECP.
The full flight was about 15 minutes late, but that didn’t curb the enthusiasm at Thursday’s celebration. Dean Blocksom, who lives in Charlotte and has been coming to Panama City for 20 years, was elated at the new non-stop service.
After he got off the inaugural flight, he said he’d been waiting for some time for non-stop service. In years past, he’s had to take flights to Pensacola or Tallahassee first before getting a rental car and driving here. “My wife’s parent moved down here 20 years ago,” he said, pointing out that he has a condo here as well. “We’ve been waiting so long for this,” he said. “This is wonderful for us. When we found out about it, we said, ‘We’re going to be on that first flight. We’re going to take advantage of this.’” American Airlines officially opened for business locally Thursday morning. To commemorate the official ticket counter opening, airport officials held a ribbon-cutting ceremony and praised the new service before an audience that included numerous public officials. They were treated to cupcakes and bottled water, and were then escorted out to the runway to see the water cannon blast over the jet as it came in.
The world’s largest airline is now offering ECP passengers non-stop daily service on the 65-seat CRJ-700 jet to Charlotte Douglas and Dallas-Fort Worth airports, American Airlines hubs that offer connecting flights to destinations around the world. “These two airports represent two of American’s largest hubs, opening East and West Coast destinations for local passengers and guests,” Airport Authority Board member Del Lee said. “It’s just two hours to Dallas and less than an hour now to Charlotte.” He said year after year, the airport continues to grow. “Our relationship with American didn’t happen overnight,” he said. “It was a multi-year relationship that happened over time. And instrumental in this process were the efforts of our economic and tourism partners to grow and attract business to the region.”
Lee said the addition of American Airlines to the already strong lineup of legacy airlines at the airport — including Delta, United and Southwest — “means our passengers have options this summer and beyond. More daily flights. More non-stop destinations. And seamless access to global connections.” Eric Morgan, senior vice president of American Airlines, said the with the new service to Charlotte and Dallas-Fort Worth, “your community now has access to what we believe is the world’s best airline network. You have access to over 1,500 connecting flights out of Charlotte and Dallas, destinations of 200-, 300-plus around the world.” He said it is exciting to provide the service to the community and the hope is it will be a long and strong partnership. “The hospitality that we’ve experienced here has just been tremendous,” Morgan said. “And this is one of the nicest looking facilities that we’ve opened service here in quite a while.”
GAC Contractors, Inc. worked with ECP to construct the new American Airlines Ticket Counter.