Southwest adding local service to Denver

A Southwest Airlines passenger plane crosses the waxing gibbous moon earlier this year.

Air carriers with growing shares of passengers at Charleston International Airport continue to add new destinations.

The latest is Southwest Airlines. The Dallas-based carrier will launch once-a-week, nonstop service between the Lowcountry and Denver International Airport on Saturdays starting June 11, much to the delight of skiers and others visiting the Colorado capital.

“Southwest has again demonstrated confidence in the Charleston market by adding Denver,” said Billy Swails, chairman of the Charleston County Aviation Authority, which owns and operates Charleston International. “It is exciting to be able to offer new destinations for Charleston-area travelers and to see growth from the incumbent carriers.”

Southwest started serving Charleston in 2011 with daily flights to Baltimore, Chicago, Houston and Nashville. It added Dallas this year. The airline accounts for nearly 18 percent of the Charleston market.

Its new flight will leave Charleston at 3:45 p.m. The flight from Denver will touch down in Charleston at 4:15 p.m.

“The new nonstop route allows for greater access to our expansive network,” said Dave Harvey, Southwest Airlines senior director of network planning and performance.

Members of the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau called the Denver stop critical to connections with the West Coast tourist and business-travel markets, and they believe the route won’t stay weekly for long.

“Denver is a Southwest Airlines focus city that opens a new path of connections to and from several West Coast cities that are an important part of its growing western network,” said Dan Blumenstock, CVB chairman.

The Denver connection has been a goal of tourism officials since Southwest launched four years ago, according to Helen Hill, CEO of Charleston’s tourism agency and an Aviation Authority board member.

“The market has grown to become the largest city pair without nonstop service,” she said. “It is our hope, and in fact our belief, that the Saturday service will become daily shortly after we have proven the market’s viability to our friends at Southwest Airlines. This is our opportunity, and I fully expect the hospitality industry to respond enthusiastically.”

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Southwest’s announcement comes after New York-based JetBlue Airways last month launched nonstop service to Fort Lauderdale and will add a second flight to Boston in April and a third flight to Washington, D.C., in May. JetBlue also serves New York City from Charleston.

JetBlue, which began serving Charleston two years ago, has about 11 percent of the local passenger market.

Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines dominates the Charleston market with a more than 32 percent share. Last week, regional carrier Silver Airways of Fort Lauderdale, said it will stop service from Charleston to Orlando and Tampa in January.

The South Florida-based airline launched in March but said future bookings from the Lowcountry didn’t look promising.

Reach Warren L. Wise at 843-937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.