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      Southwest Airlines takes off in Lowcountry, Upstate

      Columbia Metropolitan Airport / FILE

      CHARLESTON, S.C. (WACH, AP) -- Southwest Airlines lands in South Carolina with new flights serving both Charleston and Greenville-Spartanburg.

      The arrival of the low-fare carrier is expected to save travelers tens of millions on airfare and could mean hundreds of thousands more people flying to the state.

      Tourism officials in both areas anticipate convention business will increase as it becomes less expensive for businesses to hold meetings in South Carolina. And they say air fares on other carriers typically drop when Southwest enters a market.

      The low cost airline will start off with seven daily flights to four destinations - Baltimore/Washington, Chicago-Midway, Nashville and Houston Hobby.

      The arrival of Southwest hit close to home for many people in the lowcountry. Angela Sweeney is a Summerville native and a flight attendant for Southwest. Sweeney says she excited to be able to sleep in her own bed for a change. "I didn't get to sleep there last night because of the spring forward and I didn't want to miss all the activity. But, I'm looking forward to doing that. It's going to be great."

      Tom and Diane Oltorik were not passengers on the first Southwest flights but, they wanted to be in the mix. "We have a son who is a captain for Southwest out of Orlando. And, he made arrangements for us to be here and celebrate with Southwest," said Tom Oltorik.

      Not only are the new flights offering locals new getaways opportunities, for some chefs, Southwest's expansion into the Upstate gave them a chance to share the taste of Greenville with other cities.

      "Southwest Airlines invited us to go and promote the new routes to Greenville. So, we will be going to Baltimore to cook in a restaurant there, showing off some Greenville cuisine," said Rodney Freidank and Sean Garcia of Table 301 Restaurants.

      Southwest's Senior Vice President, Dave Ridley, said ticket sales to and from Greenville were already looking good.

      "Our advance bookings are strong. Our low fares and great service attract people, and we are excited about our future at GSP," Ridley said.

      Ridley said another key benefit for travelers is big airplanes.

      "No more regional jets, where you have to eat your knees on your flight," Ridley said.

      Columbia was snubbed by the airline despite efforts to land flights at Columbia Metropolitan Airport.

      President of the Midlands Authority for Conventions and Tourism Ric Luber says he offered Southwest a valuable incentives package.

      "Anything that we can do and put on the table is important for the decision maker," he says. "When we lose an airline, we lose business and we're talking about millions of dollars."

      Southwest officials say the airline offers fares as low as $39 one-way.

      To book a flight with Southwest airlines, visit

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      Would you be willing to travel to Greenville or Charleston to fly Southwest instead of flying out of Columbia? Share your comments below.

      (The Associated Press, WCIV, and Fox Carolina contributed to this report.)