Seasonal flights starting earlier than usual this year boosted passenger numbers at Myrtle Beach International Airport, and officials expect growth to continue headed into the busy summer tourist season with new flights kicking off this month.
The airport had its busiest March and April in the past six and seven years, thanks to seasonal flights on Spirit Airlines, WestJet and others starting in March and April.
More seasonal flights are about to kick in. Allegiant Air, the airport’s fourth-busiest carrier, resumes its usual seasonal flights to four destinations Thursday and Friday. And Allegiant will start service to four new destinations later this month: Lexington, Ky.; Syracuse, N.Y., and Columbus, Ohio, on May 29 and Cincinnati on May 30.
About 215,715 passengers have flown into the airport through April this year, up about 6 percent compared to the same four months in 2013, according to airport statistics. The airport had a rough start in 2014 with year-over-year declines in January and February, which officials blame on the winter-weather cancellations. But traffic in Myrtle Beach has improved the past two months as several airlines including Spirit Airlines — which makes up half the airport’s passenger numbers — kicked in seasonal flights earlier than usual and more stability in the airline industry has led carriers to boost their presence in markets such as Myrtle Beach.
Allegiant has seen so much demand for Myrtle Beach that for the first time, it is setting up a temporary base here this summer with a plane and crew, which gave the carrier the flexibility to double the number of destinations it serves from Myrtle Beach.
WestJet resumed its flights to Canada in March, about two months earlier than its inaugural year in Myrtle Beach last year. About 1,668 passengers took WestJet flights to Myrtle Beach in March and April, according to airport statistics.
Spirit’s traffic soared in April, up nearly 9,000 arriving passengers to 41,300 compared to April 2013.
Spirit’s flights to Philadelphia and Charleston, W.Va., resumed in late March, a couple of weeks earlier than last year. Last year, Spirit moved up the restart of flights to five cities including Chicago and Detroit, and kept those earlier starts this year.