Dec. 8 is a big day for tiny Dominica, known as the Nature Island, wedged between Martinique to the south and Guadalupe to the north in the Windward Islands chain of Caribbean islands.
If all goes according to plan, American Airlines will land at Douglas Charles airport on Dominica's northeast coast at 3:21 p.m., four hours after taking off from Miami, marking the start of the first nonstop service from the U.S. mainland to the island.
The Embraer aircraft will carry 62 passengers in coach and seven in business class, "an almost sold out flight," according to Colin Piper, the island's director of tourism. The turnaround flight, departing an hour later for Miami, also has few empty seats.
The twice-weekly, year-round service will expand to three times a week on Jan. 10.
"This is a very big deal for us. We already have dive groups booked on flights from Miami in January and February and we're expecting that the huge diaspora market in the U.S. will generate a lot of traffic as well," Piper said, adding that many island residents had booked flights to Miami for shopping trips prior to the Christmas holidays.
"December looks like it will have 90% load factors in both directions," he said.
In the past, air access to off-the-beaten track Dominica was limited to neighboring islands on small puddle-jumpers or from Puerto Rico on turboprops operated by American Eagle and later by Envoy Air, Seaborne and Silver Airways.
The launch of American's nonstop Dominica flights will include a ceremony on Dec. 8 at Gate D55 in Miami airport with speeches from island officials and gift packs for passengers, a water cannon welcome in Dominica and a ribbon-cutting ceremony before the return flight to Miami.
"This new service will be a game-changer for our tourism industry in Dominica, as it will allow direct access from the U.S, mainland, one of our major source markets," said Denise Charles, Dominica's minister of tourism.
She said that the decision by AA "affirms the value proposition that Dominica has as a tourism destination and will contribute tremendously to attaining our target of 200,000 stayover visitors by 2025."
Tourism momentum in Dominica
Groundbreaking is set to soon take place on the buildout of a new international airport, forecast to be completed in 2025 near the site of the present airport. It's been in the planning stages for several years and is expected to boost employment in construction jobs.
That project, along with a lineup of luxury properties that have opened in recent years, including Secret Bay, Cabrits Resort and Spa Kempinski, Rosalie Bay Eco Resort, Jungle Bay Resort, the conversion and upgrade of Fort Young to an all-inclusive property and Marriott's Anichi Resort & Spa, along with the island's Safe in Nature health and safety program, helped build demand for easy access on nonstop air service from the U.S. and awareness of the destination as a vacation spot for adventure travelers, divers and wellness seekers, according to Piper.
Discussions with American had been in the works for four years even as the carrier was adding more point-to-point service throughout the Caribbean from its hub in Miami.
"U.S.-based tour operators will now feel more confident to add Dominica to their product offerings," Piper said.
Corrections: Dominica is located between Martinique to the south and Guadalupe to the north in the Windward Islands chain of Caribbean islands; this article had the directions swapped in an earlier version. Also, the service launch celebration was held at Gate D55 in Miami.