JetBlue will fly into town Direct flights to, from N.Y., Boston

The skies over Charleston will soon get a little more blue.

Low-cost carrier JetBlue Airways will announce today that it will start three nonstop, daily flights between Charleston International Airport and two major Northeast destinations on Feb. 28.

The direct flights, the first for the airline to an airport in South Carolina, will carry passengers to and from from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport twice a day and once a day from Boston’s Logan International Airport.

The closest airports currently served by JetBlue are in Charlotte and Jacksonville, Fla.

“We are pleased to welcome South Carolina into our growing route network, and we believe the addition of flights to the Northeast will foster even more loyal fans of JetBlue throughout the state,” JetBlue CEO Dave Barger said in a statement.

The announcement comes 2½ years after Charleston first approached JetBlue, said Helen Hill, executive director of the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, which put up nearly three-quarters of the $1 million incentive package to land the New York-based carrier.

“I’m so excited, I’m about to jump out of my skin,” Hill said Tuesday. “This is huge. It’s critical for us to have direct service to the Northeast corridor.”

Last year, the top origination airport for flights to Charleston was New York’s LaGuardia, but a landing-rights deal this year between Delta and US Airways resulted in a loss of one daily flight, or about 100 seats, between the two airports.

“At stake was a potentially serious impact on visitor share,” said Wild Dunes Resort managing director and CVB Chairman Frank Fredericks. “Being an easily accessible destination is central to offering a quality, positive visitor experience, so it was imperative we attract new air service. Fortunately, our goals aligned with those of JetBlue.”

The CVB is providing $500,000 in a joint venture with JetBlue to market Charleston in New York and Boston, and another $194,000 in spots on its website and visitors guide.

The Charleston County Aviation Authority kicked in just over $200,000 through start-up infrastructure costs, a two-year waiver of landing fees and about $10,000 for marketing.

“The great economic development news continues to pour out of Charleston International Airport,” Aviation Authority Chairman Chip Limehouse said. “With today’s announcement of JetBlue’s service in and out of Charleston, it continues to put us on the map as an economic powerhouse for tourism and a world-class travel destination.”

He called the airport’s incentive package a pittance compared to the return for the Charleston region.

“We are adding over 100,000 new seats a year in and out of Charleston,” Limehouse said. “It’s a good bargain. This is a great early Christmas present for the Charleston region, and I could not be more pleased with the way things are going at that airport.”

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The Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce also is pitching in $117,700 in in-kind marketing through its website and other promotions.

The official announcement will come at 3 p.m. today at the airport.

JetBlue spokeswoman Alison Croyle on Tuesday did not have the ticket costs for flights between New York and Charleston and Boston and Charleston, nor the flight schedule, but she said each Embraer 190 jet will carry 100 passengers and offer 36 free TV channels on the seatbacks of the all-leather seats, as well as more than 100 satellite radio stations.

The first checked bag also will be free, and the airline claims to have the most coach legroom of any carrier in the U.S.

JetBlue aircraft, with their center aisles and two seats on each side, fly to 71 markets in the U.S., Mexico, Caribbean and South America. The carrier will add four new destinations in November. Charleston will be its 76th destination.

JetBlue was founded in 1999. Its inaugural flight from New York to Fort Lauderdale occurred on Feb. 11, 2000.

Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or