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Allegiant Air flying high

Flights to other destinations could be added

Flights to other destinations could be added

February 09, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

HAGERSTOWN -- Less than three months into Allegiant Air's twice-weekly service to Orlando, Fla., Hagerstown Regional Airport officials say ticket sales are exceeding expectations and chances look good for landing service to another popular destination this year.

The success of Allegiant's less-than-daily, leisure-destination model is helping talks with two other operators that are interested in providing a similar service to another southern Atlantic Coast destination, said Greg Larsen, the airport's business development manager.

Last fall, when Allegiant announced plans for the Orlando service, airline officials said they needed to see planes at least 80 percent full, which amounts to 120 paying passengers on each 150-seat plane.

"We have consistently exceeded that," Larsen said.

The airline has flown about 25 round trips since service started Nov. 14 and "just about every flight" has had more than 130 passengers, Larsen said. One flight early-on had about 78 passengers, but that was the only one so far with fewer than 100, he said. Many flights have had more than 140 passengers, and seven or eight have been at capacity, he said.

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For Friday's outbound flight, there were 150 tickets sold and one person on standby in case a seat opened up, Larsen said.

Those numbers are a reassuring sign for the continuation of the service, which Allegiant is providing without any length-of-service guarantees. The airline has been known to cancel routes that are not profitable after the first few months.

Larsen said judging by the way the service has gone so far, Allegiant should be more worried about not having enough seats than not filling seats.

"Allegiant is filling their planes," he said. "We're less than three months into this, and we're filling these planes in a very questionable economic market, and we're doing it at a very tough time of the year."

Sandwiched between Christmas and spring breaks, January and February are typically slower months for Orlando attractions, according to travel site http://theotherorlando.com.

This week, Larsen is attending Allegiant's annual airport conference, where he plans to seek feedback from airline officials about how they view the success or shortcomings from the Hagerstown market to date. He's hoping that conversation could lead to talks about adding more flights per week or adding service to Allegiant's other Florida destinations, the Tampa Bay/St. Petersburg area and Fort Lauderdale.

"I'm very optimistic that we have an opportunity here to really grow with Allegiant," Larsen said.

Larsen attributes the success of the Allegiant service to its competitive prices and the convenience associated with the airport's free parking, small size and easy highway access.

For tickets purchased before Oct. 8 for travel before Feb. 5, the airline offered a $79 introductory rate. Now, one-way fares start at $109.

The flights are offered in both directions every Friday and Monday evening. They go between Hagerstown Regional Airport and Orlando-Sanford International Airport in Sanford, Fla., about 22 miles north of Orlando and about 43 miles from Walt Disney World Resort.

Passengers so far have come from all over the quad-state area, including as far away as Baltimore and Warrenton, Va., Larsen said. Most are visiting family, commuting to a vacation home, or visiting Disney World or other Orlando attractions, he said.

"What's really been interesting about the arrival of Allegiant and its operation is we're seeing passengers who have never traveled out of Hagerstown before," he said.

Another surprise was the Feb. 6 flight, which was loaded with football fans planning to rent a car in Sanford to drive to the Super Bowl in Tampa Bay.

"We didn't even think about that," Larsen said. "It was too far from Tampa."

Airport officials view the demand for Allegiant's flights as a rebuttal to previous criticism of the Hagerstown market.

"Allegiant has certainly broken the myth that this community could not support or sustain commercial service," Larsen said.

That is not the only reason for positive developments at the airport, such as the introduction of four-times-daily service to Baltimore starting March 24, but it has helped, he said.

The completion of a runway extension in fall 2007 also has opened doors for the airport, Larsen said.

"I'm just very optimistic about the future of the airport," he said. "We're ready, and I'm confident that we're going to be moving into a very new and exciting decade of commercial service for our community and the surrounding communities."

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