Allegiant considers adding service from Wichita to Orlando

01/08/2014 9:50 AM

08/08/2014 10:20 AM

Allegiant Air is thinking Wichita as it considers where to grow routes in 2014, an airline spokesman said this week.

“We are going through a growth spurt,” said Allegiant spokesman Micah Lillard.

Allegiant, based in Las Vegas, added 40 routes last year – and there’s more on the horizon, Lillard said.

“I know Wichita has been in the conversation as far as expansion,” he said. “We’ve had great demand there. It’s been a great community for us.”

One route under consideration is service between Wichita and the Orlando Sanford International Airport in Florida.

Allegiant offers more than 50 routes out of the Sanford airport, Lillard said. It used to offer Wichita-to-Orlando Sanford service, starting in 2008, but discontinued the route about a year later because of logistical and operational challenges, Lillard said.

Allegiant currently offers Sunday and Thursday nonstop service to Las Vegas and Monday and Friday flights to the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport.

In May, Allegiant will increase flights from Wichita to Las Vegas to four times a week for the summer months. It also will resume its summer service to Los Angeles, but only from June 4 to Aug. 11.

Expansion decisions will be made before the end of the first quarter, he said.

“Those conversations are happening right now,” Lillard said.

Allegiant added three Airbus A319 and five Airbus A320 jets last year and will add another two A320s this month, Lillard said.

“We’re going to utilize that equipment we’re inducting into the fleet to expand into new markets and new routes,” he said.

It also operates MD-80 and Boeing 757 aircraft.

Allegiant’s goal is to have its flights 90 percent full. Wichita flights have been at or above that goal, Lillard said.

Allegiant began service in Wichita in 2003. It’s one of five airlines serving Wichita; the others are American Airlines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines and Delta Air Lines.

Allegiant didn’t see a decline in Wichita passengers when Southwest entered the market last year with service to Las Vegas, Lillard said.

“We haven’t seen any significant change,” he said. “Southwest is a completely different market. I don’t think either of us are trying to cannibalize customers from either carrier.”

Allegiant caters to the leisure traveler who’s going on vacation as a family or couple, he said. Southwest is geared toward the business traveler.

“They found their own niche with their Southwest route along with our route,” he said. “We’re friendly on those routes.”

Southwest entered the market with its acquisition of AirTran Airways.

Allegiant considers itself a travel company that happens to own an airline, Lillard said. It offers full travel packages that include air service, rental cars, hotel rooms and attraction tickets.

About half of its customers book a complete vacation. “That sets us apart from the low-cost carriers,” Lillard said. “We’re a one-stop shop for all your vacation needs.”

That’s not to say you can’t just buy airfare, he said.

Its niche is linking customers in small cities to leisure destinations. Allegiant serves 101 cities.

The company was founded in 1997 in Fresno, Calif., and filed for bankruptcy in 2000. It emerged from bankruptcy in 2002 and has been profitable every quarter since 2003, despite fluctuating fuel costs and an unstable economy, the company said.

Allegiant will go head to head with Southwest on the Las Vegas route, said Dean Headley, associate professor of marketing at Wichita State University and the co-author of the annual Airline Quality Ratings report ranking the nation’s airlines.

“Las Vegas is a growing market out of Wichita,” Headley said. “There ought to be room for both.”

Allegiant’s package deals differentiate it from Southwest.

“And a lot of people like that package,” he said. “I’ll say this lovingly: Wichita is somewhat of a cheap town. People like their bargains, shall we say, in Wichita.”

Allegiant fills that niche in Wichita’s consumer behavior, Headley said.

On the other hand, Allegiant does not offer daily service from Wichita, he said.

Still, “choice is good,” Headley said.

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