Holy City, Ohio to bridge gap; Continental Airlines to relaunch route from Charleston to Cleveland

Continental Airlines Inc. on Friday said that it will offer service between Charleston and Cleveland starting in the spring, relaunching a route it abandoned after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Cleveland will be the 15th city that commercial travelers will be able to fly to directly from the Lowcountry. American Airlines Inc. was the last carrier to tack a new destination onto Charleston's route map, when it started flying to the Lowcountry from Dallas in April 2006.

Greg Hart, Continental's vice president of scheduling, said the decision was spurred by strong ticket sales in Charleston, results that have recovered since the carrier trimmed its local Cleveland routes after Sept. 11, 2001.

"We tried to operate it for a year or two afterward, but the demand just wasn't there," Hart said.

The Texas-based carrier, the sixth-largest domestic airline, said it will use a 37-seat or 50-seat plane on the new route when service begins April 6. Round-trip fares will cost $226 and up. Currently, the carrier flies three trips daily from Charleston to its Houston hub and three to Newark, N.J.

The new service is part of a bullish plan by Continental to increase its operations in Cleveland.

The Buckeye State sweetened the expansion with $16 million worth of government incentives.

For Charleston, the flights are expected to bolster tourism from a state that already generates a steady stream of vacationers for the Lowcountry. About 9 percent of South Carolina's out-of-state tourists come from Ohio, according to the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, behind only North Carolina (30 percent) and Georgia (11 percent).

"Any time we can get direct service to a major metro area, it is a big plus," said Perrin Lawson, deputy director of the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. "There is plenty of business to be had out of Ohio."

Delta Air Lines Inc. operates nonstop jet service three times a day from the Holy City to the airport that serves the greater Cincinnati area.

Reach Kyle Stock at 937-5763 or kstock@postandcourier.com