What is Allegiant Air Thinking?

I haven’t written about Allegiant in awhile, but I think the time has come. Its decision last week to pull out of Long Beach is just one of a few odd choices that we’ve seen coming from the airline recently. I’m trying to figure out what exactly is going on over there.

Let’s start with Long Beach since my home airport is always top of mind for me. Allegiant just announced it will end flights here in November. The press release gave no reason, and I received no response from Allegiant despite sending a request via email and leaving a voicemail. So all we can do is speculate.

Allegiant Says Aloha to Long Beach

This is a very strange, surprising move. When Allegiant first started flying to Long Beach last year, it didn’t seem like a city that would fit into the Allegiant model . . . until Hawai’i came into focus. With Allegiant acquiring 757s to fly to Hawai’i, Long Beach would be a natural jumping off point for the airline. So the expectation was that Allegiant would just sit on those slots until the 757s got up and running.

Meanwhile, the Hawai’i plans kept getting delayed as the airline realized that introducing a new aircraft type and getting certification to fly over long stretches of water far from land (ETOPS) took a lot longer than expected. The 757 is now flying but Hawai’i still hasn’t started.

In Long Beach, Allegiant struggled to find anything that would work. It began Bellingham along with ill-fated flights to Stockton (which I can’t imagine anyone thought would work) and it moved flights that were going to LAX over to Long Beach from places like Idaho Falls. Nothing really stuck. Had Allegiant given up and decided to cut its losses then, I wouldn’t have been surprised. But in April of this year, when Frontier relinquished its slots, Allegiant ramped up and actually took a third slot. It switched the strategy to send all flights to Las Vegas. JetBlue ramped up to Vegas as well, and that must have been ugly.

But what could Allegiant expect? Flights from the LA Basin to Vegas are plentiful and cheap. It couldn’t have expected much, but again, I assumed it was just an effort to find a better place to park slots until Hawai’i started. Now, after almost a year and a half, Allegiant is scrapping the whole plan and walking away. Other airlines will get slots. (My bet is on JetBlue and Delta, though Alaska would be smart to grab a slot and start Hawai’i itself now that Allegiant is giving up. I bet there’s a market there.)

Let’s read the tea leaves here. Why would Allegiant give up now? There are four reasons that seem possible.

  1. Hawai’i is off the table. Maybe Allegiant is seeing success with its 757s on domestic routes to places like Lexington and Knoxville from Vegas and doesn’t want to bother with Hawai’i anymore. Or maybe the 757s aren’t long for this world with the airline now that it’s seen the characteristics of the airplane. That would be a big change in strategy, and it would be a surprise if true.
  2. Hawai’i is delayed longer. At last check, I thought Hawai’i was now scheduled for later next year. That’s a lot longer than Allegiant thought it would have to wait when it came into Long Beach, and maybe it’s not comfortable taking the losses anymore just to hold on to slots. But why would that decision be made now and not several months ago when delays were already known? Maybe more delays are in the pipeline and we just don’t know it yet.
  3. Long Beach to Hawai’i is no longer interesting. I can’t imagine that this would be the case. I mean, if it was interesting 3 months ago when a 3rd slot was acquired, it shouldn’t be much different now. But, this could be a sign of internal strategy issues at the airline. Maybe there’s a question about how it wants to serve Hawai’i and Long Beach is now the odd man out?
  4. Hawai’i was never the plan from Long Beach. What if the airline actually thought it was a good idea to go in there on its merits? That didn’t work, so now it’s pulling out. That seems crazy, of course. I think most people could have told you that Long Beach to Stockton or Idaho Falls wasn’t going to work. That’s why everyone assumed Hawai’i was the plan. Besides, the Long Beach flying was so far removed from the airline’s strategy in general that it wouldn’t have made much sense. Then again, this wouldn’t be the only goofy thing Allegiant has done lately with routes. . . .

If you missed it, Allegiant is now going to start flying six times a week between its two bases in Las Vegas and Phoenix/Mesa. This is a big departure from the airline’s strategy of trying to avoid big routes with competition. Sure, Phoenix/Mesa is a different airport, but it has a much smaller catchment area compared to the much larger operation of Southwest and US Airways at Phoenix’s main airport. This isn’t the usual small city to big city route that has made Allegiant the winner that it is.

Even stranger is the schedule. Allegiant will be running two daily flights on Friday and Sunday tying up an airplane from 250p in the afternoon until 930p at night. That’s certainly a good peak time to fly to Vegas on Friday and back on Sunday, but these airplanes are doing roundtrips. I can’t imagine the Friday out of Vegas and Sunday back is going to be a winner. This use of an airplane during primetime is a little concerning. Shouldn’t Allegiant have better ways to use an airplane on those prime travel days? Apparently not.

Oh sure Allegiant continues to churn out new routes in its typical pattern of connecting small cities to big cities, some that work and some that don’t. Some don’t even get off the ground. Just last week, a planned announcement for service to Gary, Indiana was called off at the last minute when Allegiant informed the airport that the runway wasn’t long enough. Allegiant says that an announcement of a deal was “premature” but clearly at best there are some major communication issues on service plans.

It’s been an interesting few months at Allegiant. If only I could be a fly on the wall at that place.

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