Charleston’s status as an international city gets a lift this week.
Years in the making, a Charleston-London air connection takes flight Thursday on British Airways, setting a precedent not only for the Lowcountry but also for all of South Carolina.
The airline has seen few markets that have matched Charleston in its enthusiasm for the flight launch, said Simon Brooks, British Airways’ senior vice president for North America.
"The feedback has filled us with so much confidence," Brooks said. "We're incredibly excited to get going."
A planeload of foreign passengers will land in Charleston for the first time through the first nonstop transatlantic flight from England's capital. It's also the first across-the-pond flight for the Palmetto State.
About 2 hours later, a loaded Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner will turn around and take off for Heathrow Airport on an overnight, long-haul flight. As of last week it wasn't sold out.
To get ready for the new service, Charleston airport officials have laid out more than $10 million to build a new kitchen to serve not only British Airways but future carriers that need it. They also have been busy upgrading the federal inspection station where the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency will check in incoming passengers from abroad. A new passenger lounge is in the works, too. It's expected to be ready by this summer.
Also, Charleston County Council has committed to spend about $500,000 to promote the U.K flights this year and next, matching contributions from the Explore Charleston tourism marketing organization.
The Charleston-Heathrow link has been viewed by supporters as an opportunity to expand international business relations in the Lowcountry and possibly attract a major corporate headquarters from overseas.
Tickets went on sale in mid-October.
British Airways has added a local landing page to its website as part of the launch, encouraging travelers to book for the first springtime flights and to "Find a spring in your step in Charleston."
A brief pitch for the destination highlights the Holy City's cobblestone streets, "seafood delights," historic forts and "beaming locals." It's a familiar description with a slight British touch: Visitors are encouraged to stop by King Street for "a spot of brunch."
Travelers from the United Kingdom have consistently made up the largest group of overseas tourists who travel to Charleston every year, according to figures from Explore Charleston. Some of their top travel interests — beaches, golf, fine food and history are among them — align with the Lowcountry's most popular offerings.