By Stacy Jacobson
CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) - A new airline opened its gates and began boarding passengers on Charleston Thursday, and with that, a new excitement.
Hannele Hanson was one of many to welcome the first jetBlue passengers to Charleston. She embraced her aunt and uncle, who flew in on the inaugural flight from New York's JFK Airport.
"I've got a cute niece and we need to fly," her uncle said. "As just travelers we were excited to get down here because the options have been so limited."
The flight landed just before jetBlue's first batch of Charleston passengers, including James Harrison, got ready for take off.
"I'm ecstatic about it," Harrison said.
Harrison lives in Charleston but his daughter is a New Yorker. He said jetBlue's arrival gave him better options for departure.
"We would love to make frequent trips up there. And on top of that, we have our daughter in New York that's been driving. So now she may get back and start flying," he said.
The jetBlue plane flew in under blue skies Thursday, but it has Lowcountry leaders seeing green. They said it strengthened the business and tourism ties between the regions.
"We have lots of people who are permanent residents of the Lowcountry who work in New York, who go up every week. They're here because they and their families want the quality of life that the Lowcountry presents," Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said.
"I have a lot of friends in New York who are like, ‘Oh, I'd love to go to Charleston. It's kind of expensive to get there,'" said Hannele's aunt, who also arrived on the inaugural flight.
The sky's the limit for Trey Swinton, too. The Lowcountry native lives in Colorado. jetBlue's inaugural flights only go to New York and Boston, but he was hoping they'd have an effect on all fares into and out of Charleston's airport.
"The fact that it's such a small airport, typically prices are more expensive here. But, bringing in other options, I think it will help drive costs down," Swinton said.
"We go into a community, we're able to lower the fares, grow the market and then add additional service as time goes on," jetBlue Chief Operating Officer Rob Maruster said.
And that meant more family time for Hannele and her relatives.