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      First WestJet flight arrives in Myrtle Beach

      A budget airline that Grand Strand tourism leaders have been courting for years made its first flight to Myrtle Beach Thursday.

      WestJet is often described as Canada's Southwest airlines.

      The first WestJet flight from Toronto arrived at Myrtle Beach International Airport around 11:30 a.m.

      It was a party atmosphere at gate A3, as most arriving passengers had no idea they'd be welcomed with flowers, music and handshakes from local leaders.

      "No, we didn't, but it's been amazing. Very exciting," said Kim Richardson of Burlington, Ontario.

      For many travelers, the most exciting part was a flight with no stopovers.

      "Our agent picked this flight for us because it was direct. The other ones were not," said Doug Easton of Oakville, Ontario.

      All but four of the 136 seats on the Boeing 737 were filled for this first WestJet flight. Airline officials say that's a sign that the Toronto to Myrtle Beach connection will be popular.

      "Bookings have been very strong, we're very happy," said Tim Croyle, VP of WestJet Vacations. "As soon as we launched it, we started getting a lot of interest."

      The airline will offer twice-a-week service to Myrtle Beach on Thursdays and Sundays.

      The flight lasts just two hours, so Croyle says Myrtle Beach can be, maybe for the first time, a weekend getaway for Canadians.

      Myrtle Beach tourism leaders say since WestJet offers summer flights - not just spring and fall - it opens up the Grand Strand to canadians who may not have considered the area before.

      Officials also hope WestJet attracts not just more tourists, but more carriers.

      "Typically when WestJet starts service, they don't pull out of communities and often times other airlines follow them because they are such a successful airline," said Brad Dean, president of Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.

      Dean says it's important to keep in mind that WestJet planes fly in both directions, so he hopes the service will also be popular with Myrtle Beach residents who would like to visit our neighbor to the north.