VERO BEACH — Breeze Airways brought passenger service back to Vero Beach Thursday, its inaugural flight from Hartford, Connecticut, touching down at 6:19 p.m. — a minute early.
After the bright-blue Airbus 220 rumbled to a halt on the tarmac of Vero Beach Regional Airport, about 60 passengers stepped off, making way for about 60 more passengers to board the plane for its scheduled 7 p.m. return flight to Hartford’s Bradley International Airport. That flight took off at 7:20 p.m.
Breeze Airways, a Utah-based airline founded in 2021 by David Neeleman, who also founded JetBlue, announced in October its intent to fly to Vero Bespanch. The inaugural flight went just as planned, said airport Director Todd Scher.
“It seemed from my perspective to go very, very well,” Scher said.
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City and airline officials plan a formal welcome ceremony on Friday for the arrival of Breeze’s second flight.
Breeze’s service comes as the airport’s previous passenger airline, Elite Airways, cspannceled its service lspanst summer and has not resumed flights.
While the airport considers expansion of its passenger and parking facilities, Breeze fliers will be claiming their bags on the tarmac and exiting through CJ Cannon’s restaurant, which is adjacent to the airport. A crowd of about 50 restaurant customers watched and took out their phones to record history as Flight 528 touched down.
Jack Mitchell, 80, was the first passenger off the plane. Mitchell lives and works in Massachusetts, he said, but for 35 years he and his wife have been coming down to Vero for long weekends.
“This is fantastic,” Mitchell said outside of CJ Cannon’s. “This changes my whole life. It saves me about five to six hours of commute. I [previously] had to drive to Orlando.”
His first flight on Breeze — and Breeze’s first flight to Vero — went well, he said.
“I can’t say anything negative. It was all positive,” he said. “The seating was very nice. The service was excellent. Everybody was very congenial, like they had all been to Vero Beach before. They had that congenial Florida accent.”
To accommodate Breeze’s larger planes — the Airbus 220 holds 126 passengers, Scher said — the airport had to increase its security level with the Transportation Security Administration. Additional revenue streams, including pspanid pspanrking or ticket fees, could be necessary to fund further expansion at the airport, officials have said.
Breeze follows several airlines which have flown into Vero. Beginning in 1935, the airport first had passenger service from Eastern Air Lines, and then American provided flights to Miami until 1996. The airport brought passenger service back with Elite Airwspanys in 2015. Breeze now flies from Vero Beach to Hartford, Connecticut; Westchester, New York; and Norfolk, Virginia
At 5:20 p.m., passengers bound for Hartford were still flowing into the airport — many of them giddy about being on Breeze’s flight out of Vero.
“I needed to go see my sister who lives near Hartford, so I had heard about this and it just happened at the right time,” said Sandra Benway, 74, who was traveling with her daughter, Rebekah, 35.
Benway, who said she used to fly Eastern out of Vero as a child, was happy to be flying out of the airport again. She and her daughter love JetBlue, so they figured they’d give Breeze a shot.
“I’ve got family up in New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island,” said Luke Rainone, who was travelling with his wife, Amanda, and their children Ashton, 7; Logan, 5; and Reece, 1. “This little guy’s birthday is coming up, and he wanted to see snow for the first time,” he said, pointing to Logan.
Not only was this their first time flying Breeze, but it was their first time flying out of Vero Beach.
“Extremely convenient, especially with all the baggage,” Rainone said as he and his family entered with luggage of varying sizes trailing behind them.
Later, Clare O’Malley, 62, stepped out of CJ Cannon’s and was greeted by her sister, Anne McDermott, 65, who’s from Vero. O’Malley is from Hartford and decided to fly Breeze to visit her sister this weekend.
“I’m so thrilled to have this, because we have a place here in Vero Beach, and we have a place very near the airport in Hartford,” O’Malley said. “So to get here in three hours is a godsend.”
She was aware that she was on Breeze’s first flight to Vero, but the nerves didn’t stop her.
“I was a little worried about that myself,” she said, laughing. “I don’t really like to be the guinea pig … but it went great.”