2 new direct routes take flight from Myrtle Beach

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Apr. 23--Myrtle Beach International Airport inaugurated two direct flight routes Thursday, opening the Grand Strand to the Knoxville, Tenn., and Youngstown, Ohio, markets.

Allegiant Air began the biweekly service to the two cities with a flight from Knoxville arriving at 1:50 p.m. and a flight from Youngstown arriving at 3:45 p.m., said spokeswoman Sabrina LoPiccolo. The flights will run Thursday and Sunday, in hopes of drawing weekend travelers.

The new routes are part of Allegiant's major expansion into the Myrtle Beach market. The airline will roll out two more routes April 30 to Grand Rapids, Mich., and Fort Wayne, Ind. The airline was pleased with the performance of its initial routes to Allentown, Pa., and Huntington, W.Va., that were introduced last year, influencing the company to begin flying from more locations, LoPiccolo said.

The new routes are year round, but LoPiccolo said that could change based on how many people fly in the off-season. The route could also expand service to more days if it proves popular.

"We definitely micromanage our schedule, so we're consistently evaluating and seeing what works," she said.

The company runs a tight ship on expansion, so it's exciting that they are so bullish on Myrtle Beach, said Brad Dean, president and chief executive of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber has been advertising in all of the direct flight market since January, he said, including Knoxville and Youngstown.

"We spent so many years working on new flights," Dean said. "We're very encouraged by the initial interest in the new flights as it appears that we're attracting many first time visitors."

If these routes succeed, they could lead to further routes, he said. Dean said he hopes the flights will bring tourists who wouldn't normally drive here.

The cheap flights on Allegiant brought Brittany Snow and her bachelorette party to Myrtle Beach from Knoxville on the first flight, said sister Leah Snow, who planned the trip as a surprise.

Allegiant sent Leah Snow an e-mail promoting its low rates and spurred the trip, she said, but she didn't know it was the first direct flight. None of the four traveling had been to Myrtle Beach before, but Brittany Snow had several girlfriends come down for spring break, she said.

The low rates also drew William Woolum to fly back to Knoxville on Allegiant, said his sister Michelle Stooksbury, who accompanied him to the airport. Woolum had driven down with Stooksbury, a Surfside Beach resident, after they spent Easter with their family in Knoxville. There were a few hidden fees for baggage and priority boarding for the disabled, but the final $56 spent to fly was still reasonable, she said.

"With the flights that cheap, I'd say my mom and him would probably come down quite regularly," she said. "I think it would definitely bring tourists to the area to have direct flights."

Contact JAKE SPRING at 626-0310.

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