Allegiant Air’s announcement last week that it’s adding five destinations from Myrtle Beach this year is a reminder that the busy summer season is right around the corner.
In addition to the new destinations on Allegiant and another on Spirit Airlines, travelers will find more parking at Myrtle Beach International Airport — which is expecting to have more passengers coming through the airport than ever before.
Here are five things to know about air service this year and what officials have planned:
More non-stop options
Travelers will have more destinations to choose from than last year, especially to and from the Northeast and other cities that previously didn’t have nonstop service including Orlando, Fla.
Allegiant Air announced last week that it is adding five destinations to Myrtle Beach:
• Akron-Canton, Ohio starting June 3;
• Indianapolis, Ind., and Orlando, Fla., starting June 4; and
• Clarksburg, W. Va., and Pittsburgh, Pa. through Pittsburgh International Airport starting June 5.
Travelers previously had to connect to get to those destinations, though Pittsburgh-bound travelers have had service to the area through Latrobe/Pittsburgh on Spirit Airlines.
“Allegiant Air’s expansion of service is great for the entire Myrtle Beach market and it speaks to the strength of the destination,” Bill Golden, president of marketing group Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday, said in a news release. “Increased air service is vital to the growth [of] our market, so the success Allegiant enjoyed in 2014 and its decision to expand the number of nonstop flights into Myrtle Beach this year is great news.”
In addition to the new Allegiant destinations, Spirit will add nonstop flights to Cleveland, Ohio starting April 16.
If the airport doesn’t already have service to your destination or it’s not one of the cities already announced to start this spring or summer, you’re probably out of luck in 2015. Officials aren’t expecting any more announcements of additional service for this summer, with the tourism season right around the corner.
Carriers will start returning to the market and ramping up as the summer approaches.
Season getting longer
Some seasonal flights are ramping up earlier than usual for the second consecutive year.
Allegiant plans to start its flights to Columbus, Ohio on April 9 and to Cincinnati on April 10, more than a month earlier than usual.
“They are slowly growing the season,” MYR spokesman Kirk Lovell said.
Spirit started some of its seasonal flights earlier last year, and has continued that this year. And WestJet resumes seasonal flights to Toronto Pearson International Airport on Thursday.
Tourism promoters are touting the nonstop service in ads promoting visits to the Grand Strand this spring, aiming to boost that shoulder season business.
That’s where the additional flights to Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and Ohio come in.
“Everybody is just looking for that break. They are just so snow fatigued,” said Susan Phillips, marketing director for the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, which is spending roughly $3 million on the spring campaign.
Though some of the carriers are starting earlier, the winter is still a slow period with only three carriers operating at MYR year-round: Spirit, US Airways and Delta.
Record year on tap?
The airport is expecting to be the busiest it’s been since 2011, which was a record year with 881,694 passengers flying into the airport. Officials predict that MYR will break that record this year, thanks to the five additional destinations on Allegiant, earlier starts on some seasonal flights and carriers such as Spirit Airlines using bigger planes that can bring more travelers here.
The airport, which opened a $118 million terminal in April 2013, has been working to keep up with the growth. About 650 parking spaces have been added at MYR, with about 1,700 spaces available. And two gates in the former terminal are being improved to handle traffic and are on track to be ready by May, Lovell said.
For the locals
Usually when officials are trying to snag new service, they look at markets where residents are likely to jump on the flights to come to the Grand Strand to play golf or for vacation – think all those Northeast markets.
But Allegiant’s recently announced flights to Orlando – via Orlando Sanford International Airport — are more for the locals headed to Disney or looking for a getaway.
“That is one market where 50 percent of the market originates here,” Lovell said.
Cities still on the wish list for nonstop service
Officials have checked off Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Orlando and Indianapolis from their wish lists for nonstop service thanks to the planned additions on Allegiant this summer.
But others remain: Houston, Texas; Hartford, Conn.; Minneapolis and Kansas City.
A number of travelers connect to those cities now, which leads officials to believe the market is there to support nonstop flights.
Minneapolis is especially intriguing because of the number of golfers there who likely would consider coming to the Grand Strand to play a few rounds if there were nonstop flights, Lovell said.
“It’s one of the strongest golf markets,” he said. “There’s just no way to get here.”
With the national economy improving, more airlines are expanding and willing to listen to officials trying to land new air service, chamber and airport leaders said.
Myrtle Beach aims to entice airlines with the statistics showing where visitors to the area are coming from.
“Right now the airlines are in a growth mode, but there are opportunities everywhere,” Lovell said. “The case is strong [for Myrtle Beach]. We have a story to tell.”
Maybe Allegiant’s investment in the Myrtle Beach market might send a signal to other carriers, Phillips said.
“Allegiant is showing big support for our destination,” she said. “They are seeing something here.”