Laser focused on leisure: Allegiant begins flights to Jacksonville
Feb 12, 2015
Jensen Werley Reporter
Jacksonville Business Journal

Those that see Jacksonville as a vacation paradise just got a vote of confidence.

The first flight to Jacksonville from Allegiant Travel Company (NASDAQ: ALGT) landed from Cincinnati at Jacksonville International Airport today, and flights to and from Pittsburgh begin tomorrow.

The 15-year-old airline company, headquartered in Las Vegas, specializes in departing from underserved cities nonstop to vacation destinations, said spokeswoman Jessica Wheeler. The airline has over 40 routes to Las Vegas and Tampa and more than 50 to Orlando, she said.

"We are all about leisure markets," said Wheeler, who added that her airline also only flies non-stop, with flights from each city about twice a week to provide low fare for travelers looking to vacation.

"Florida is a huge vacation market," she said, "and Jacksonville seemed like a logical addition to that choice of destination. Jacksonville completed that Northeaster beaches option of destination."

She said Jacksonville had been on its radar for a long time.

"We've been looking at the general area for a while," she said. "It's typically a drive market. Based on history, the Northeast [Florida region] is a very popular destination for midwest states looking for affordable beach vacations. Many are traveling that way by ver long car ride, so we're excited to start flights from Cincinnati and Pittsburgh."

Debbie Jones, spokeswoman for the Jacksonville Aviation Authority, said it took about three years for the deal to come together.

Jones said the Allegiant flights would provide additional benefits for the airport's leisure travelers. Although the airport is known for its business travel clientele, about 40 percent of fliers are leisure travelers.

"Any time we can make Jacksonville a destination," she said, "and promote it as a destination is a good thing. We have golf courses, beaches. After all, the weather is acceptable all year long."

Allegiant is beginning introductory one-way base fares from Cincinnati for $66 and fares from Pittsburg for $77. The average price for one-way base flights for the airline is between $87 and 99, Wheeler said. Each plane of its 70-vessel fleet sits about 160 passengers.

Part of what keeps Allegiant low-cost is its ala carte model, she said.

"For the super low maintenance traveler who just has a backpack in front underneath the seat and don't' care where they sit, they can fly for $66," Wheeler said. "We charge for bags, seat assignments, if you want to have a Coke on the plane. We want to offer customers a choice. Not every customer needs two bags and a bunch of amenities. We really believe in offering customers a menu of options to create a vacation that fits their needs."

With the start of these flights, it's possible the airline might add more flights to Jacksonville if these two are successful. "Our motto is 'never say never,'" Wheeler said

With the additional flights, the growing company seems to be taking off for a small airline.

"We're really not so small anymore," she said. "We serve a niche that no other carrier is really paying attention to. We're laser-focused on leisure travel."