HAGERSTOWN—Direct Air's inaugural flight into Hagerstown Regional Airport Thursday was about an hour behind schedule, but with a bluegrass band, sheet cake, a contest and speeches by local officials, outbound passengers had plenty to keep them busy.
The flight was the first of what will be twice-weekly service between Hagerstown Regional Airport and Lakeland, Fla., with stops in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Local officials heralded the service as not only a convenient travel option for area residents, but a chance to partner with Lakeland, Fla. — a central Florida city midway between Tampa and Orlando — to cross-promote tourism between Florida and Western Maryland.
Three Washington County commissioners — Terry Baker, John F. Barr and Ruth Anne Callaham — were among the passengers on the first flight to Lakeland, where they were to join government and tourism officials there in celebrating the new service.
The commissioners said they paid for their own tickets.
Thursday's Direct Air flight was the first regular passenger service at the Lakeland Linder Regional Airport in 23 years, according to the Lakeland newspaper, The Ledger.
"It's a great partnership, a great sister-city relationship, between Lakeland and Hagerstown," said Mark Jackson, director of Polk County (Fla.) Tourism and Sports Marketing, who flew in to escort the Washington County officials to the Lakeland airport.
Also aboard that flight was Ed Warneck, one of the owners of Direct Air, who called the service the beginning of a "new era."
"Think about the economic impact for this community," Warneck said. "We're very excited about that and being part of this history that's being made today."
He said if the service was successful, Direct Air hoped to be able to add additional destinations departing from Hagerstown.
Michael and Karen McCarthy of Lakeland were among the passengers arriving in Hagerstown on the inbound flight Thursday.
The McCarthys, who were visiting their daughter and new twin granddaughters in Baltimore, said the plane was about half-full coming into Hagerstown.
Low fares, convenience
The departing flight, on the other hand, was sold out, said Phil Ridenour, director of Hagerstown Regional Airport.
Direct Air flights are on 139-seat MD-80s, a change from theBoeing 737s originally planned, Ridenour has said.
Many of the passengers waiting to board said they booked the flight because of price or the convenience of departing from Hagerstown.
Paula McKewen of New Freedom, Pa., said in the past she and her husband had made the 10-hour drive to Myrtle Beach.
"We're just visiting family and glad that they have a direct flight at a reasonable price," she said.
Direct Air tickets begin at $79 each way, according to an airline news release.