Charleston wooed JetBlue since 2010

JetBlue’s touching down in Charleston didn’t happen overnight.

Tourism, economic development and airport leaders flew to New York in February 2010 at the same time they were courting Southwest Airlines. They went back seven times.

“Our goal was to get them to see Charleston,” said Helen Hill, executive director of the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau and a key player in attracting the low-cost carrier to consider Charleston.

In 2010, they finally wooed them to the South Carolina coast to check out the airport and see what the Holy City had to offer.

At about the same time, Southwest Airlines announced that it was coming to Charleston the next year, but that didn’t deter JetBlue.

The carrier came back for a second visit in 2011 and met with officials in the boardroom of the South Carolina Aquarium.

“We did what was fun, and they got a feel for the hospitality of Charleston,” Hill said.

Though there was an incentive package of about $1 million sitting on the table for about two years, what clinched the deal was the fact that JetBlue saw Charleston’s 25 percent growth in passengers last year after Southwest arrived.

“They knew the time to get in was now,” Hill said.

On Wednesday, JetBlue made it official. It is landing in Charleston with two daily nonstop flights to and from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport and one to and from Boston’s Logan International Airport starting Feb. 28.

Persistence paid off, said JetBlue route planning director John Checketts, noting that JetBlue’s 23 flying partners at JFK and Logan should play to Charleston’s advantage.

Those markets aren’t just tourist-rich but also are home to some of the biggest companies in the country, said House Speaker Bobby Harrell of Charleston, who helped shepherd the deal to fruition.

“Having convenient air service to major metropolitan areas is important to economic growth and a huge plus for Charleston,” Harrell said. “Is this a great day or what?”

Gov. Nikki Haley, who did not attend the announcement, called it huge for South Carolina, saying it will bring more people to Charleston, a top tourist destination in the country.

The carrier’s announcement also caused Aviation Authority Chairman Chip Limehouse to quip, “Nothing could be finer than to come to Carolina on a JetBlue airliner.”

Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.