Allegiant Fights AirTran, Enters Orlando

For years we’ve heard Allegiant proclaim that they don’t really like competition. They’ve often boasted about how few of their routes have competitors, and they’ve had no qualms about walking away from a route that suddenly performs poorly thanks to new entrants (Greensboro comes to mind). Now, Allegiant has had enough. They’ve found some competition from AirTran that they aren’t willing to shy away from. They’re moving some flights from Orlando/Sanford to Orlando International next year. It’s war.

Allegiant Starts Orlando Flights

Allegiant has a substantial base in Orlando, but the flights go from little-used Sanford Airport on the northeast side of town. The airport is a really cheap place to operate, and that’s always good, but there’s a problem. The tourist attractions are southwest of town, much closer to the main Orlando International airport. Now you can understand why Sanford is cheap.

It’s 50 miles right through downtown Orlando and at least an hour from Sanford to Disney World. It’s 25 miles from Orlando International to Disney World and that avoids downtown entirely. When you have 4 screaming kids in the back wanting to meet Mickey, every few minutes helps.

So now, beginning on Feb 1, they will move flights to 10 of their 31 destinations from Sanford over to Orlando International Airport. The cities that will be moving?

  • Knoxville
  • Lexington
  • Allentown (Feb 8)
  • Greenville/Spartanburg (Feb 8)
  • Grand Rapids (Feb 12)
  • Springfield, Missouri (Feb 15)
  • Tri-Cities, Tennessee/Virginia (Feb 15)
  • Huntington, West Virginia (Feb 16)
  • Youngstown, Ohio (Mar 4)
  • Des Moines, Iowa (Mar 5)

So how did they pick these markets? Well, see those lines in bold? Those are markets where AirTran flies nonstop from Orlando. I took a couple liberties. AirTran flies to Branson, not Springfield. They also fly to Charleston, not Huntington; Akron/Canton, not Youngstown; and Asheville, not Tri-Cities or Greenville/Spartanburg. But those are all within 100 miles of each other so they are certainly competitive when it comes to leisure travel.

Oh, and that Des Moines flight? AirTran just announced it would begin March 6. Allegiant now starts one day earlier.

Still need more proof that this is a fight against AirTran? How about this quote from a message sent to the Allegiant employees the night before the public announcement? (MCO is Orlando International’s code.)

This project has been underway for several months, driven by the activity of a competitor which as you know began serving a number of our Orlando markets to and from MCO. We believe they view their MCO service provides them with a competitive advantage. Our MCO offering will level the playing field. We have developed our Orlando routes over the past five years and as such will react appropriately to provide our customers a service equal to or better than the competitor’s proposed offering.

Wow, we don’t hear things like this from Allegiant, but I like it. It’s one thing to pull out of routes here and there if competition is around, but AirTran is effectively trying to tackle Allegiant’s routes out of Orlando on the whole. Allegiant has better flexibility with its airplanes than AirTran thanks to low fixed costs, and it has a strong network of packaging options available to help it get the advantage. There’s no reason they shouldn’t be defending this.

And really, this move to the main airport in Orlando isn’t out of character. They already fly to the main airport in Vegas, Ft Lauderdale, and LA. Yes, Sanford is a cheaper place to operate, but when that family of four wants to go to Disney, that extra drive may be enough to help AirTran succeed. Allegiant is going to fight that and try to prevent that from happening.

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