Spirit Airlines will add nonstop service to five cities from Myrtle Beach, nearly doubling the number of destinations it serves, a company representative said Thursday.
Beginning May 5, Spirit will begin seasonal service to Washington, D.C.; Plattsburgh, N.Y.; Niagara Falls, N.Y.; Latrobe, Pa.; and Charleston, W.Va.
Flights will be daily to Washington, D.C., Reagan National Airport; four times a week to Plattsburgh and Latrobe; and three times a week to Charleston and Niagara Falls. The routes could bring up to $50 million in economic activity, but three routes also directly compete with Myrtle Beach-based charter service Direct Air.
"We look for places that are places people want to go and places that need a low fare option like Spirit," airline spokeswoman Misty Pinson said, after announcing the new flights at a press conference Thursday.
Spirit, based in Miramar, Fla., flew to six destinations from Myrtle Beach before announcing the five new routes. The new flights represent Spirit's faith in the Myrtle Beach area, said Michael La Pier, director of airports at Myrtle Beach International Airport.
"We're very pleased that Spirit has recognized the strength of the market and made this commitment today," La Pier said.
Brad Dean, president and chief executive of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, said the routes likely will bring $30 million to $50 million in economic activity to the area. Marketing group Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday and the chamber already plan to market the Grand Strand in the five new destinations next year, Dean said. He said the flights will increase their penetration into those markets.
Some of the routes will compete directly with those of Myrtle Beach-based Direct Air. Direct Air flies to Plattsburgh and Niagara Falls, and the Latrobe flight could attract fliers from nearby Pittsburgh.
Direct Air already has done the work to promote the areas and now Spirit is coming in to take advantage of that, said Judy Tull, a managing partner at Direct Air.
"This will be the first time they have determined to come in and fly over our routes," Tull said. "But that's the airline industry. This happens in the industry."
Tull said she was confident Direct Air could compete with Spirit on the routes since they have an existing customer base. Spirit decided earlier this year to charge for carry-on luggage, which Direct Air does not do and could help the company compete, Tull said. Direct Air also has more weekly flights on the three routes than the number Spirit has planned, she said.
Spirit filed its plans for an initial public offering that could raise $300 million in September and is in a quiet period while regulators review the company's plans, Pinson said. Spirit representatives are not legally allowed to speculate on the company's future during the quiet period, she said, nor can it comment on Tull's remarks.
The routes will give a boost to Myrtle Beach International at a time when most airports are still hurting for the bad economy, said Michael Boyd, an aviation consultant. Boyd has previously worked with Myrtle Beach to grow air service on and off for the past five years and is in talks with La Pier to do further work with the airport.
"Airlines are not adding, they're cutting back. Except in Myrtle Beach," said Boyd, president of Colorado-based Boyd Group International.
A spot at Washington, D.C. Reagan National is particularly valuable and will bring business and leisure travelers, Boyd said. The IPO can only stand to strengthen the Spirit's already strong position, he said.
He said the new routes will cut into Direct Air's business, giving Plattsburgh as an example.
"As many [Canadians] that come across the border there aren't enough for two airlines to serve it," he said.
Contact JAKE SPRING at 626-0310.