Allegiant takes first steps in Springfield

Tim Landis

People who live in Allentown, Pa., in the summer and Florida in the winter are said to have “dual citizenship.”

The transient population was used as a key selling point in a recent marketing campaign that landed a third Allegiant Air route between Fort Lauderdale, Fla. and Lehigh Valley International Airport, just outside the Pennsylvania community.

The service, scheduled to begin Nov. 14, joins existing Florida routes to Orlando and Tampa-St. Petersburg.

“We continue to try and increase that service. We believe we could support even more flights to Orlando or St. Petersburg,” said Susan Kittle, director of business development for the Allentown airport.

The start of Allegiant flights between Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport in Springfield and Las Vegas on Friday carried similar hopes among airport supporters for additional flights by the discount carrier — perhaps for the “snowbird” population that shifts annually between Florida and central Illinois.

Airport executive director Mark Hanna said it is unrealistic to expect additional flights in a round of Allegiant announcements this month. But he said the airport continues to solicit suggestions from passenger on preferred destinations.

“It would put us in for follow-on announcements by demonstrating that we are a viable market,” said Hanna.

Florida is by far the most popular destination in suggestions received up to now, Hanna added.

Allegiant company brought a bit of Las Vegas glamour to the start of flights, including a showgirl, an Elvis impersonator, a buffet and simulated gambling tables set up in an outdoor garden.

Spokeswoman Sabrina LoPiccolo said the carrier typically tests a market for several months before adding flights. Allegiant has been pleased by the bookings up to now in the Springfield market, she said.

“We go into smaller markets that don’t have nonstop service to popular vacation destinations,” said LoPiccolo.

“We don’t have a timetable (for added service), but we can usually tell in the first few months how it’s going,” she said.

The Springfield airport has been down to one carrier — United Express to Chicago and Washington D.C. — since AmericanConnection flights to St. Louis were lost in March. But airport officials also have worked to bring back a discount carrier such as Allegiant Air.

Hanna said early flights on 150-passenger jets flown by Allegiant have been about 95 percent booked.

“We're thrilled to have them in Springfield, and they are very pleased with the advanced bookings they are seeing in the Springfield market,” Hanna said.

The Allentown airport lost its only discount airline as the result of a bankruptcy filing in 2004. But the airport also had the additional selling point of connections through six major airlines to hub airports in Cincinnati, Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Charlotte, N.C. and Toronto, Canada

More than 788,000 passengers used the Pennsylvania airport in 2006, and the facility is on pace for an 8 percent increase in passenger numbers this year.

“We did offer them (Allegiant) incentives for ground-handling and marketing expenses. It’s a pretty typical package,” said Kittle. The Springfield airport offers similar incentives to new carriers.

Allegiant started the first Florida flights from Allentown in December 2005 and a second round in November 2006. Kittle said the incentive that sealed the deal for a third route was assuring the carrier of the additional passenger numbers.

“We went out to the community and asked them for input on where they’d like to see Allegiant go,” she said.

Tim Landis can be reached at  (217) 788-1536 or tim.landis@sj-r.com.

Allegiant Air in Springfield

n Flights depart Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport at 2:05 p.m. Monday and Friday, arrive at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas at 3:40 p.m. Departures from Las Vegas are at 8:05 a.m. with arrival in Springfield at 1:25 p.m. (all local times).

n Carrier flies 150-seat MD-80 jets.

n On the Web: www.allegiantair.com.