JetBlue Airways tacks on new flights to Charleston, and some fares start to fall.
Departure and arrival times for the new JetBlue service:
Charleston to Reagan Nat'l
Reagan Nat'l to Charleston
The airline added two routes to its daily schedule Thursday between Charleston International and the nation's capital, challenging the tight grip that US Airways has had on the Reagan National market from South Carolina's busiest airport.
One local resident tweeted Thursday that he paid $652 for a US Airways flight to Reagan National this week while the same flight next week will drop to $328.
A round-trip JetBlue flight between Charleston and Reagan National leaving June 27 and returning June 30 starts at $283, according to the airline's website. A similar US Airways' flight starts at $278.
JetBlue officials noted that its rivals usually lower or match prices when the New York-based carrier enters the picture.
"Reagan National Airport, traditionally known as a high-fare airport, has greatly benefited from the JetBlue effect, as our new service has resulted in a significant reduction in fares in the markets we serve and substantial increase in travelers," said Rob Land, senior vice president of government affairs.
US Airways now offers five flights between Charleston and Reagan National, which is just outside Washington, D.C., in northern Virginia. They will remain in place.
"We have no changes planned to our flight schedule at this time," spokeswoman Michelle Mohr said.
Richard Ward of Texas, who was in the Charleston area visiting relatives, was among the first passengers on Thursday's inaugural departing flight.
"I'm very much in favor of businesses expanding and giving service to customers and potential customers with quality," Ward said.
Passengers received festively wrapped presents that included a JetBlue pen, a Charleston Chew candy bar and a luggage tag.
JetBlue started serving Charleston in February 2013 with flights to JFK International in New York and a third to Boston.
It picked up the D.C. routes from the merger of American Airlines and US Airways. In approving that combination, regulators required what will become the new American Airlines to give up 52 of its highly coveted landing slots at Reagan National. JetBlue gained 12 of those in January.
JetBlue is using 100-seat Embraer jets on the Charleston route.
The new service to Washington is expected to be a boost to business travelers, tourists and even politicians, because it will give them greater access to the nation's capital.
Charleston airport officials welcomed the new flights in a ceremony Thursday across from JetBlue's ticket counter.
"We all know that takeoff and landing slots at Washington Reagan are precious resources, and JetBlue's new flights make a bold statement about their belief in our community," said Larry Richter, vice chairman of the Charleston County Aviation Authority.
The airport handles 132 daily arrivals and departures, and offers travelers nonstop service to 14 cities and 18 domestic airports
Charleston's air travel continues to surge in part because of the spinoff from Boeing Co.'s growing airplane assembly operation and Charleston's thriving tourism industry.
A record of nearly 2.9 million travelers passed through Charleston International in 2013. The number is projected to climb to 3.5 million by 2022, prompting officials to invest about $200 million to expand and renovate the passenger terminal by next year.
Based on the latest available figures from the fourth quarter of 2013 from the U.S. Department of Transportation, the average airfare in Charleston was $397.
Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.
Cynara Charles-Pierre (right), director of corporate communications for JetBlue Airways, helps launch the carrier’s new nonstop service between Charleston and Reagan Washington on Thursday as Charleston County Aviation Authority Vice Chairman Larry Richter looks on.×