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Allegiant Air to suspend local flights to Fla.

July 22, 2009

HAGERSTOWN -- Allegiant Air, which since November has operated twice-weekly flights between Hagerstown and Orlando, Fla., will suspend that service from Aug. 17 to Oct. 29, an airline spokeswoman said Wednesday.

The suspension was a business decision made by the airline based on the normal dip in vacation travel that corresponds with the beginning of the school year, Allegiant Air spokeswoman Tyri Squyres said.

"It's a way to ensure that we keep our flights full and therefore our fares really low," Squyres said.

Flights will resume Oct. 30, she said.

Squyres said cutting back on flights during a destination's low-tourism season is part of Allegiant's normal business model and a seasonal suspension was planned before the Hagerstown service even began.

"The airport was fully aware of this," Squyres said. "This is something we planned on from the very beginning."

Hagerstown Regional Airport manager Carolyn S. Motz said she was not surprised by the airline officals' decision, but wished she had been able to talk them out of it.

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"I think we knew that they are very good at what they do," Motz said. "They're one of the airlines that operates in the black, and yes, I was aware that they do things like this in various markets. This is our freshman year, after all, so I can't say I was surprised."

Washington County Commissioners President John F. Barr said he was caught off guard when he heard of the suspension at an airport commission meeting last month.

"It isn't something that we knew about last fall when this was initiated," Barr said.

Allegiant Air's 150-seat planes continue to be more than 90 percent full, on average, on the Hagerstown-Orlando flights, Motz said.

Motz said after airport officials presented that data to Allegiant, the airline agreed to shorten the suspension period somewhat. It originally proposed to continue the suspension into November, Barr said.

Squyres said regardless of the flights' current popularity, systemwide data on flights into Florida is enough to convince the airline that operating during the late summer and early fall would be less profitable.

Flying half-full planes would require the airline to raise ticket prices even during more-popular travel seasons.

"In the end, customers are happy because we're flying when they want to fly and they get a great deal, so it works to everyone's advantage," Squyres said.

Motz said she was willing to put her trust in the airline's business model.

"We want to be long-term players and we want them to stay healthy, so if this is what they feel they need to do to stay healthy as an airline, we're there for the long haul," she said.

The airport will take advantage of the service "hiatus" to spruce up its terminal with some small improvements, Motz said. She said she would like to find a way to expand the terminal to accommodate growing crowds, but wasn't sure it could be completed in such a short window.

Motz said the airport's ticket office will remain open and continue to sell tickets for Allegiant flights for Oct. 30 and beyond.

She encouraged anyone who wants to fly to Orlando in the meantime to consider connecting to Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport via the Hagerstown airport's Cape Air commuter service, which continues to operate four round-trip flights a day.

"It is very important that people continue to fly out of Hagerstown as much as is feasible," Motz said.

High ticket sales will help attract additional service to the airport, she said.

Barr said as disappointing as the service suspension might be, it is better than having Allegiant pull the service entirely, as some feared that it might.

Allegiant, which did not provide the airport with any length-of-service guarantee, has been known to cancel routes that are not profitable after the first few months.

"The reason we have Allegiant service is because we're doing OK in their eyes or well in their eyes," Motz said. "And we would like people to go out there and buy those tickets just like they always did so we can continue to make Allegiant happy and grow stronger here at the airport."

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