A new airline is coming to Savannah-Hilton Head International airport, and local officials hope the carrier will provide enough competition to lower other airlines' fares.
JetBlue Airways will begin service from the airport Feb. 13, the Savannah Airport Commission announced Monday. The carrier will offer two nonstop flights daily to New York's John F. Kennedy Airport. Introductory fares will be as low as $79 one way between Feb. 13 and March 31 and can be booked now.
"JetBlue's presence in this market will increase competition and stimulate new travelers, both of which we've been working to achieve for some time," airport executive director Greg Kelly said in the release. "This should help reduce the need to drive to Jacksonville or Charleston due to airfare disparity."
The new flights will provide about 200 daily seats to New York City, with departures at 10:20 a.m. and 4 p.m., said airport marketing director Lori Lynah.
That nearly doubles the airport's service to its most popular destination, she said. Delta Airlines provides three daily departures to New York's LaGuardia Airport.
By adding service from its New York hub, JetBlue gets a direct line to the tourism and business communities in Savannah and the Lowcountry, said Bill Miles, president and CEO of the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce
"Fifty percent of all travelers arriving at the Savannah airport are headed to Hilton Head," Miles said. "That's why the airport is such an important partner of ours."
In addition, area residents get a cheaper option out of the Lowcountry, and JetBlue's low-cost seats could help drive down the cost of similar flights from the airport's four other airlines, Savannah Airport Commission Chairman Sylvester Formey said.
"You'll see an effect on rates of all carriers," he said. "Competition does exactly that."
Low-cost carrier Air Tran dropped service to Savannah in 2008.
The JetBlue agreement has been three years in the making, Formey said. It included the collected effort of the airport commission and Savannah and Hilton Head chambers of commerce.
"What you saw today was certainly a prime example of persistence paying off," Miles said.
Soon there may be opportunities to expand JetBlue's service. The airport is pursing JetBlue flights to Boston, Formey said.
"We're pressing to be a part of the program," Formey said. "I think they're discovering Savannah, and I think that will begin to tie us to the other destinations they have across the country."
JetBlue is the fifth airline to offer flights from the airport, joining U.S. Airways and American, Delta and United airlines. It will set up its ticket and baggage area at the vacant ticket counter next to Delta Airline's counter, Lynah said.
Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.