Dec 14, 2015
Jensen Werley, Reporter
Jacksonville Business Journal
In a move that Jacksonville Aviation Authority is calling “unheard of,” Air Canada's recently announced nonstop service between Jacksonville International Airport and Toronto Person International Airport will begin earlier than expected, to accommodate Canadian tourists who want to attend The Players Championship.
Rather than beginning May 21, flights will begin May 7, ahead of the May 10 start date for The Players golf tournament.
“This is unheard of,” said Debbie Jones, a spokeswoman for the JAA. “It's very rare for an airline to move a flight start date. But to accommodate tourists from Canada interested in attending, they moved it up.”
The decision to make the change came from the intersection of interest from Canada and Florida as a tourism destination.
"Many Canadians love golf almost as much as going to Florida, so we are very pleased to adjust our schedule to accommodate fans attending The Players,” said Lisa Pierce, senior director of U.S. sales and market development at Air Canada, in a statement. “Beyond this, our new service will make it easier to travel between Toronto and Jacksonville and Northeast Florida year-round, while also giving local residents more travel options, both to visit Canada or connect to our international network.”
Golf is especially popular in Toronto, which is a top-five city for golf courses per capita in North America, according to Dave Reese, president of Florida's First Coast of Golf.
The move — and vote of confidence in Jacksonville's tourism market — is drawing city-wide praise from business and tourism industry leaders.
"We are thrilled with this new service and schedule," said Matt Rapp, executive director of The Players, in a statement. "As we continue to grow our national and international fan base, a non-stop flight option from Canada will help give our neighbors to the north an easier way to be a part of history at The Players in May as we showcase the very best field in golf on an incredible course."
With the new flight, Visit Jacksonville is hoping to capitalize on tourism from Toronto to Jacksonville — beyond just the attraction of golf.
"The new Air Canada date and service gives Canadian travelers a chance to enjoy one of the premier golf tournaments in the nation while at the same time experiencing Jacksonville and letting our region show how we create unforgettable experiences for our visitors." said Paul Astleford, president and CEO of Visit Jacksonville, in a statement. "We look forward to welcoming thousands of new visitors on Air Canada, and helping them discover a new side of Florida."
Beyond the earlier start date, no other changes have been made to the flight. The year-round service is scheduled for weekends on an Embraer ERJ-175.
Flights will depart from Toronto to Jacksonville at 9:20 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays and will take just over two hours. Flights will depart from Jacksonville to Toronto at 12:15 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.