Panama City Beach – Pat Rice of the News Herald did some driving last week to determine the time it takes to drive from the new Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport to Destin and conversely the time it takes to drive from Okaloosa County’s Northwest Florida Regional Airport.
Jonathan and I had a similar discussion about the impact of Southwest Airlines and the Panama City Beach airport last week when the Frommer’s Travel Guide, one of the best-selling travel guides in the world with more than 75 million books sold, named the Florida Panhandle beaches as one of its top 12 travel destinations for 2010.
While everyone else was celebrating the imminent opportunity to fly to and from Houston, Nashville, Baltimore and Orlando, Pat was busy on the road, finding the answer for us to another airport-related question. Namely, how long does it actually take to drive to various points along the beach from Northwest Florida’s airports?
Next to ticket cost, drive time from airport to destination might be the most important question tourists and other visitors to Northwest Florida have as they decide which airport to use. If it takes decidedly longer to travel from one airport than the other, that could matter to visitors.
So Pat jumped in his truck and went on a drive on our behalf.
Pat drove from the entrance of Bay County’s new airport and timed how long it took to reach certain well-known points along U.S. Highway 98 in Walton and Okaloosa counties. The exact route was west from the airport on County Road 388, south on State Highway 79 and then west on U.S. 98.
On the way back to Panama City Beach Pat drove from the entrance of Northwest Florida Regional Airport in Okaloosa County and timed how long it took to reach the same points along U.S. 98. The exact route was State Road 85 north to Niceville, then State Road 20 east through Niceville, then State Road 293 south across the Mid-Bay Bridge to U.S. Highway 98.
The results of Pat’s field trip follow. Note that Pat made the drive on a Wednesday in the middle of December so drive times will definitely be longer during prime time from either direction.
- The east entrance to State Road 30A in east Walton County, 21 minutes
- The intersection with County Road 295, which ends at Seaside and WaterColor, 29 minutes
- The intersection with County Road 283, which ends at Grayton Beach, 31 minutes
- The intersection with County Road 393, which ends at Dune Allen Beach, 37 minutes
- The west entrance to 30A, 40 minutes
- The Silver Sands shopping area, 46 minutes
- Destin Commons, 51 minutes.
And, in reverse order, here is how long it took to drive to the same points from Okaloosa County’s airport:
- Destin Commons, 26 minutes
- Silver Sands, 34 minutes
- The west entrance to 30A, 40 minutes
- County Road 393, 43 minutes
- County Road 283, 48 minutes
- County Road 395, 50 minutes
- East entrance to 30A, 59 minutes
So if you are a traveler heading to points west of the west entrance of 30A, you will save a few minutes if you begin your drive from Okaloosa County’s airport. But if you are heading to points east of the west entrance of 30A, then you would be better off beginning from the new Bay County Airport.
Of course, the real lesson here is that the difference in drive time is negligible.
Pat’s conclusion…Rather than focusing on drive time from the airports, travelers should focus on the price of their airline tickets. And Southwest’s arrival to Bay County’s airport should create competition that means lower ticket prices all around. That’s a present we can all enjoy.
Pat did not include the drive time to our Panama City Beach Condo http://www.bestpanamacitybeachcondo.com so I will:
From PCB – 12 minutes
From Okaloosa 63 minutes
On a side note Pam and I are booked on the first direct Southwest Airlines flight from Nashville to Panama City Beach on Mat 23rd. I hope you join us!