Headin’ off to … Jimmy Buffett International. Why not? | Editorial

The idea struck the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board three days after Jimmy Buffett died, and the Orlando Sentinel cohort agrees: How about naming Key West’s airport after the state’s balladeer-in-chief?

Like the man himself, it’s crazy enough that it just might work.

Jimmy Buffett International Airport. Why not?

We aren’t alone in this musing. An online petition was started by Buffett fan Brad Russell to change the name of Key West International Airport to honor Buffett. As of this writing, that petition at change.org has 25,693 signatures, and we’re throwing our weight behind the idea.

Hardly the first time

Renaming an airport after an individual is not unprecedented. Both major airports serving Washington (Dulles and Reagan) and New York City (Kennedy and LaGuardia) are so named.

Nor would this be the first time an airport is named for an entertainer — witness John Wayne Airport in Orange County, Calif., Pilgrim, where a large bronze statue of Wayne towers over the baggage carousel. Nor would this even be the first airport named after a musician, as anyone who has flown into Louis Armstrong New Orleans Airport can tell you.

Those last two are marvelous marketing schemes. When you land at the Duke’s airport, you know Hollywood can’t be far. And when you touch down at Louis Armstrong, the sounds of jazz are ringing in your ears before you’ve left the gangway.

When your plane hits the tarmac at Jimmy Buffett, it will be hard not to have visions of margaritas dancing in your head

Few musicians are so closely associated with a place as Buffett is with Key West. His songs are rife with references to the island, even if his best-known song about air travel might be “Jamaica Mistaica,” which recounts the true story of Buffett’s Grumman HU-16 Albatross taking incoming fire from Jamaican police who mistakenly believed it was running drugs.

The gears are turning

Officials in Monroe County, which owns the Key West airport, have heard the pleas, but change will be slow in coming.

“It would be a long process and we’d have to work through it,” County Mayor Craig Cates told WLRN.

Hurdles include approvals from the feds, the county and the Buffett estate.

Cates, who knew Buffett as mayor of Key West, where he served from 2009 to 2018, told the Palm Beach Post that Monroe County Attorney Bob Shillinger would reach out to Margaritaville Holdings, which controls the Buffett brand, to begin discussions.

Face it, the name Key West International Airport is boring — even if Key West, the place, isn’t.

An easy decision

Aside from Buffett detractors, whose bleating on anything Key Westian can easily be discounted, pushback on the renaming has come in two forms. First is a contingent of people on the island who have been calling for the airport to be named for someone else.

The Post reported that the most significant name is that of Freddy Cabanas, a local stunt pilot who died a decade ago in a crash in Mexico. Cabanas was, like Buffett, one of those larger-than-life figures whom Key West seems to attract. (Unlike the Mississippi-born Buffett, Cabanas was a fourth-generation Conch.) In 1991, the mayor of Key West declared Cabanas general of the Conch Republic Air Force.

That sort of prestige shouldn’t go unnoticed, but there’s a way to split this and make all sides happy. Key West International is expanding with a new concourse added by 2025. When completed, the new terminal could bear Cabanas’ name, just as the University of Florida’s Ben Hill Griffin Stadium boasts Steve Spurrier Field.

The other obstacle is money. Rebranding means added costs, which could be substantial. But it’s a fitting tribute.

Visitors to Key West are more likely to land in Miami and rent a car to take the drive, one of the most scenic experiences in America. But there are legions of fans for whom flying into Jimmy Buffett International Airport will become a rite of passage. If the tickets cost more money than flying to Miami, that’s partially defrayed by avoiding the cost of car rental and fuel driving down from the city. (Many visitors to the nation’s southernmost point opt to use bikes or ride-sharing within Key West to avoid parking challenges.)

So, come on, Monroe County. A ticket to Margaritaville could be just a mouse-click on a travel site away.

The Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board includes Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson, Opinion Editor Krys Fluker and Viewpoints Editor Jay Reddick. The Sun Sentinel Editorial Board consists of Editorial Page Editor Steve Bousquet, Deputy Editorial Page Editor Dan Sweeney, editorial writer Martin Dyckman and Anderson. Send letters to insight@orlandosentinel.com.