Myrtle Beach lands Canadian airline

The (Myrtle Beach) Sun NewsFebruary 12, 2013 

— Myrtle Beach will have nonstop flights to Canada this summer on a carrier new to the Grand Strand, officials announced Monday.

WestJet, a Canadian-based airline that serves 81 destinations in North America, Central America, and the Caribbean, will start flying nonstop routes to Toronto Pearson International Airport on May 2.

The flights, on Thursdays and Sundays, will leave Toronto at 9:30 a.m. and arrive at Myrtle Beach International Airport at 11:35 a.m., then leave Myrtle Beach at 12:20 p.m. and arrive in Toronto at 2:14 p.m.

The additional flights will help the local golf and tourism industries, leaders said. Canada is the top international market for Grand Strand tourism.

“WestJet’s decision to offer nonstop flights to Myrtle Beach provides us a golden opportunity to attract golfers from not only Toronto but across Canada,” Bill Golden, president of marketing group Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday, said in a news release. “Canadians take more than 1 million golf trips annually, and WestJet’s entry into the market will make the Grand Strand an even more attractive destination.”

The service, WestJet’s first foray into South Carolina, will last through the summer and into the fall.

These will be Myrtle Beach’s first nonstop flights to Canada during the summer, though Porter Airlines flies to Toronto Centre City during the fall, winter and spring.

“Myrtle Beach is one of the most popular destinations for Canadian vacationers, with more than 90 kilometres of picturesque beaches, world-class golf and warm (S)outhern hospitality,” Chris Avery, WestJet’s vice president of network planning, alliances and corporate development, said in a news release. “The baggage capacity of our 737 aircraft is ideal for those traveling with golf clubs and our one free checked bag is popular with leisure travelers.”

WestJet was founded in 1996 as a regional carrier in Canada with three planes flying to five cities. It has grown to have a fleet of about 100 Boeing aircraft serving 81 destinations.

WestJet is the first new carrier in Myrtle Beach this year, though some existing airlines such as Spirit Airlines and US Airways have added additional routes and plan to start others earlier than usual this year aiming to help fill the void left by Myrtle Beach-based Direct Air, which abruptly stopped flying and filed for bankruptcy in March.

Airport officials say the added service and additional seat capacity should help make up for losses last year that led to a double-digit percentage drop in the number of outgoing passengers. Amid the ongoing drops last year, airport, golf and tourism leaders stepped up efforts to lure new service and keep existing flights.

“Nonstop flight service is vital to the future growth of the market, and we look forward to helping WestJet succeed in Myrtle Beach,” Golden said in the news release.

Crews are putting the finishing touches on a $118 million expansion at the airport that is expected to open this spring, though an exact date hasn’t yet been set.

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