Delta Air Lines wants to begin a new non-stop route between Orlando and Sao Paulo, Brazil, on Dec. 19, unique because airlines rarely schedule international flights out of non-hub airports.
But despite Brazil's economy near recession this year and demand likely slowing from Orlando's top foreign tourist group outside North America, Brazilian travelers favor non-stop flights to Orlando International Airport (MCO), and airlines are reacting.
"Orlando is the top family vacation destination in the U.S. for Brazilian travelers," said Sarah Lora, Delta's general manager for communications. "Delta investments in the region are a strategic response to growth and opportunities, and Brazil is a key growth driver for Delta in Latin America."
Despite Brazil being the no. 1 overseas tourist market for Orlando since 2013, MCO currently has just three non-stop daily flights to Brazilian cities: two via Brazilian legacy airline TAM to the nation's largest city of Sao Paulo, and one by Brazilian upstart airline Azul to its hub of Campinas-Viracopos, a growing international airport located about an hour north of Sao Paulo.
That number increases to four on June 12, when TAM starts daily non-stop service from Brasilia to Orlando. In July and August, Azul will temporarily launch a second Orlando-Campinas flight three days out of the week for seasonal demand.
Azul will launch Orlando's fifth non-stop flight to Brazil on Nov. 16, a five-days-per-week route to Brazil's sixth largest city, Belo Horizonte.
Most Brazilians make their way to Orlando through any one of dozens of other one-connection route combinations on a daily basis, switching planes in capitals throughout Latin America or U.S. hubs like Miami, Houston, Dallas, New York City, Newark, Chicago and Washington, D.C.
Delta currently operates 34 weekly round trip non-stop flights between Brazil's Sao Paulo, Brasilia and Rio de Janeiro and its U.S. hubs of Atlanta, Detroit and New York-JFK.
If approved by U.S. federal regulators, Delta's four days-per-week flight from MCO to Sao Paulo will be the airline's first non-stop to Latin America from a non-hub airport, and will become Orlando's sixth non-stop flight to Brazil.
Anecdotally, Brazilian passenger traffic to Orlando has reduced through the first few months of this year as Brazilians reduce consumption and consider the costs of U.S. travel, with a currency that's devalued some 30 percent against the dollar over the past year.
But the few non-stop flights to Orlando remain at or near full capacity on a regular basis, said Claudio Da Costa, president of Costa Brazil Group, a Brazilian travel agency with offices in Orlando, Miami and Tampa.
"Those TAM (non-stop) flights here are always full, and Azul has shown good returns as well since starting (non-stop flights in December 2014)," he said. "Brazilians consider the price premium, but they favor non-stop flights to Orlando, especially large family groups. This will be very good for Delta."
Another daily flight between Orlando and Sao Paulo on Brazil's GOL Airlines is currently counted as non-stop by MCO statistics, though it stops in Punta Cana, Mexico. MCO counts it because there's no aircraft change for passengers.
MCO’s top international non-stop markets over the past 12 months have been:
United Kingdom: 1.197 million passengers (enplaned and deplaned)
Canada: 1.004 million
Panama: 372,697 (noted as a major connection hub for travelers from throughout South America going to Orlando)
Source: Orlando International Airport