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Incentives lured Allegiant Air back to Hagerstown

flights to Orlando to begin in May

March 22, 2012|By HEATHER KEELS | heather.keels@herald-mail.com
  • Eric Fletcher, director of airports for Allegiant Air, announces Thursday that Allegiant will be providing passenger air service to Orlando, Fla., from Hagerstown Regional Airport beginning in May. At right is Hagerstown Regional Airport Director Phil Ridenour.
By Yvette May/Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN — Lured by incentives from Washington County, Allegiant Air is taking another go at providing air service from Hagerstown to Orlando, starting May 25, county and airline officials announced Thursday.

The company, which flew the same route in 2008 through 2010, will again offer twice-weekly flights, generally on Mondays and Fridays, from Hagerstown Regional Airport toOrlando-Sanford International Airport, Allegiant Manager of Airports Eric Fletcher said.

Tickets are already on sale, with an introductory rate of $59.99 each way for tickets purchased by April 12.

The service will fill the gap left last August when Direct Air ended its service from the county-owned airport to Myrtle Beach and Lakeland, Fla. Currently, the airport’s only commercial service is its commuter flights to Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

“I have to tell you, day after day after day, my staff takes phone calls from folks saying, ‘When are you going to go to Florida?’” Hagerstown Regional Airport Director Phil Ridenour said.

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“Through all the hard work of Mr. Greg Larsen, our EDC (Economic Development Commission) specialist, I’m proud to announce today that we have fulfilled your request,” Ridenour said.

Allegiant representatives contacted airport officials on Friday, followed by several conference calls, and on Monday evening at about 6 p.m., “they contacted us and said: ‘We are coming,’” he said.

“We’re very pleased to be back serving Western Maryland,” Fletcher said. “We see this area as having tons of potential for success.”

Asked what had changed since Allegiant pulled its service in July 2010 citing “lack of market demand,” Fletcher said the company now feels the market is ready, and the airport has been willing to help overcome previous shortcomings.

“Before, we had some issues with staffing and even getting our name out there,” he said. “But we anticipate having no problem this time. Allegiant has grown as a company, the airport’s going to help us get the word out, and I see this service as being enormously successful.”

The county has offered Allegiant $50,000 a year for five years to use to market the service, Washington County Commissioners Vice President John F. Barr said.

In addition, airport employees will provide all of the ground support for Allegiant, including luggage handling and customer service, Barr and Ridenour said.

“We’ve been basically wooing Allegiant to come back for quite some time,” Barr said.

Paying additional part-time airport staff for ground handling brings the county’s total incentive package for Allegiant to $75,000 to $80,000 a year, he said.

However, by having Allegiant, the county will likely surpass the 10,000 annual passenger-boarding count required for the airport to qualify for $850,000 a year in federal aviation dollars, Barr said.

“So we’re spending 10 cents to get 90 cents,” Barr said. “It’s one of those things where you’ve got to spend money to make money.”

The incentive package is the same one the county provided to Direct Air, Barr said.

Fletcher said Allegiant intends to provide the service year-round and continue it long term, although there is nothing to prevent the airline from pulling out if sales are too low.

“Like with most air service, the airport allows for the flexibility to come and go as we need, but we do see this lasting a long time,” he said.

Passengers needed

Allegiant began its last service from Hagerstown in November 2008, suspended it temporarily in late summer and early fall of 2009, and ended it in July 2010.

Direct Air began its service in June 2011 and ended it less than two months later.

“In order to keep this service, you folks need to buy tickets,” Ridenour told the public officials and others gathered for the announcement. “You need to put yourself in that airplane. Fly to Florida as much as you possibly can.”

Barr, who used Allegiant’s service frequently when it was previously offered, praised the airline for its timeliness, professionalism and courtesy, and said he was already booking tickets for the first flight.

“When Allegiant was here the first time, I felt like we went to the prom with my high school sweetheart, and today I feel like we’re marrying that high school sweetheart,” he said.

Ridenour also announced that around the time Allegiant’s service starts, the airport will be introducing a baggage carousel and enlarging its holding room.

Starting Friday, the airport’s ticket counter will sell advance Allegiant Air tickets on Mondays and Fridays from 3 to 5 p.m., Ridenour said.

Reservations can also be made at allegiant.com or by calling 702-505-8888.

Allegiant Air is a subsidiary of Las Vegas-based Allegiant Travel Co. It operates MD-80 and Boeing 757 jets and flies 176 routes serving 77 cities.

Fletcher said if ticket sales go well, the company might add additional destinations from Hagerstown.

“We’re always exploring possibilities, and we’re looking forward to expanding service in Hagerstown,” he said.

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