Allegiant To Start Flying A319s with a Lot of Seats

Yesterday, Allegiant announced that it would add a third aircraft type to its stable. The airline’s first A319 will be delivered in the fourth quarter of this year and Allegiant will take a total of 19 aircraft to start. I’m not surprised that Allegiant went this route, but I guess I am a little surprised at the timing.

Allegiant Leaning A319

After a few fits and starts, Allegiant found its groove by picking up airplanes nobody wanted. Airlines didn’t want the MD-80 because the fuel and operating costs were higher than newer models, but because the airlines didn’t want them, Allegiant could get them for cheap. Low ownership costs plus higher operating costs still made for a great deal and Allegiant grew to have 58 of the airplanes, making bank all along the way.

But the MD-80 couldn’t serve every route Allegiant wanted. The first effort to stray was to get some 757s to fly to Hawai’i. But the 757 is a big airplane so it’s hard to see how it could really fit into Allegiant’s style of service on the mainland.

Allegiant could have continued to buy MD-80s (there are still hundreds of them flying), but the airplane has limitations. It’s a runway-hog and can’t operate off of some smaller airports. Gary, Indiana comes to mind as a place that initially had Allegiant’s service canceled because of runway issues. Also, the MD-80 doesn’t have excellent range for some of the longer routes Allegiant might be interested in serving.

So it’s no surprise Allegiant would be interested in newer airplanes that fix that problem. I always thought some of the longer range 737-400s and -300s that US Airways has been getting rid of would be good airplanes. But Allegiant leapfrogged that idea to a newer airplane that’s certainly lower cost to operate. The reason I’m surprised about the timing is that I can’t believe ownership costs have dropped enough on a current generation model that it made sense for Allegiant to go that route.

A319 Freefall
But that appears to be exactly what’s happening with the A319. Think of the A319 – who wants it? Most airlines are moving toward larger airplanes with their narrowbody acquisitions. Southwest built its operation on the similarly-sized 737-700 but it is currently taking delivery of a bunch of larger 737-800s. Delta and United have gone even bigger with 737-900 orders. And US Airways is retiring 737s in favor of much larger A321s. Only American really wants A319s at this point in the US.

More importantly for Allegiant, Cebu Pacific no longer wants its A319s and instead wants A320s. Also, easyJet has been slowly shedding its older A319s for the last year. So larger airplanes are doing well, but the values of the A319s are apparently collapsing quickly. Allegiant posted this slide in a presentation on the A319 acquisition:

Allegiant A319 vs MD80

This chart assumes that Allegiant keeps the same low utilization of 8.9 hours a day that it has today on its MD-80 fleet. As you can tell, the ownership costs are double those of the MD-80 but the savings are much greater in terms of maintenance and fuel. (Allegiant learned the hard way that maintenance is expensive when it spent millions on rehabbing engines.) If utilization goes up, savings go up as well.

Packing ‘em In
So when others don’t want the A319, Allegiant can pounce. But Allegiant is going for a very specific type of A319. It is leasing all 10 of Cebu Pacific’s airplanes along with 9 that were operated by easyJet. What’s so special about these? They have two overwing exit doors on each side while just about all the others have one. Why the difference? Well, the additional exits mean they can jam in extra seats above and beyond 145. Allegiant will operate these airplanes with 156 seats. For comparison, JetBlue puts 150 seats on an A320, a much bigger airplane.

This is a little surprising since those 6 extra seats above 150 mean Allegiant will need another flight attendant onboard. It’s hard to imagine that’s worth it. Maybe one of these days Allegiant will pull a row out, but that’s not the plan for now. For now, it’s all about cheap fares and jam-packed airplanes.

There’s good news and bad news with this. The good news is that these airplanes can fly further and into airports with shorter runways, meaning new routes could be opened up. The bad news is, your knees are going to pay. That’s not too bad on a short flight, but if these airplanes do start stretching their legs across the country, then it might be a tough to take.


40 Responses to Allegiant To Start Flying A319s with a Lot of Seats

  1. Don’t like those seats with short leg room ? We have some great offers of just $25 per one way flight for an exit seat either over the wing or up front with extra leg room !

  2. If an A319 has 156 seats but only 149 passengers, does it still require a 4th flight attendant ? Is there anything that the airline can do to take a seat out of service (e.g. surround it by ‘DO NOT CROSS’ tape) so that the aircraft is deemed to have only 150 seats ?
    I’m wondering whether this might allow Allegiant to save the cost of the extra flight attendant, unless the aircraft is *really* full when the extra passenger load and yield makes it worth paying the extra cabin crew member

    • Oliver says:

      It’s the capacity of the aircraft that determines the number of FAs required, not the actual number of passengers on board.

    • michael martin says:

      Yes, The FAA madates 1 flight sttendant on board for every 50 SEATS on an aircraft, not every 50 passengers

      • To be clear its every 50 passenger seats, crew seats, and lavs don’t count.

        • Noah says:

          could allegiant potentially designate a row as “crew (non pax) seats”? That way they have the fleet flexibility for a future change, and I believe can carry airline employee/crew non-revs/deadheads….

          • FRANK says:

            if those seats were designated for crew rest seats. They would go empty for take-off and landing. They’re just that, for crew rest. No such thing as non-rev/employee seats. Just pax seats and jumpseats.

  3. Peoples knees may take a beating, but if the fare is really low they will still buy them and fly.

    Americans like to pay as little as possible, but complain as much as possible so this move is perfect for the American market.

  4. Scott says:

    Gary’s longest runway is 300′ longer than Bellingham’s [only] runway, and they don’t appear to have big issues at BLI.

    • Matt Weber says:

      Two observations. BLI’s runways aren’t really a big issue because the furthest they fly the MD80 out of BLI is Scottsdale/Mesa AZ, which is about 1200 miles.
      Consequently, the MD80 operation out of BLI is never going to be especially close to MGTOW. BLI temps are probably considerably lower in the summer than Gary, and Gary destinations would also have been considerably further than BLI’s destinations. Both significantly increase the runway requirements.

    • Joe says:

      Allegiant is now flying down to Sanford from Gary. I believe they originally wanted to fly out to Las Vegas, but nixed it b/c of “operational limitations”.

    • CF says:

      There were issues at Gary regarding clearance over the railroad tracks, I believe. Regardless, the A319 fixes whatever issues there might have been.

  5. Scott says:

    GYY-FLL is shorter than BLI-AZA; so really only GYY/LAS would be issue. GYY-LAS is right on the edge of the range of an MD, so I’m guessing that saying GYY’s runway was an issue was really an excuse for “we couldn’t get a better deal from the airport”

    I suspect that this is exactly what the A319s are for. Longer flights not possible with an MD. And Cranky is right, 156 is a silly number of seats (given the USA 50:1 pass:FA ratio), with the extra FA if you’re flying US domestic.

    • Chicago Chris says:

      I’d be surprised it they couldn’t get a deal from Gary. Gary has been wanting anyone to fly out of there so they can get some federal funding. My understanding is they bent over backwards for Allegiant. The issue was reportedly takeoff weight to LAS was higher than Sanford because of the fuel. Once they found it was safe to fly to Sanford they went ahead with the plans.

      I’ll look forward to the day when Allegiant is flying newer planes. Some of those MD-80s are rattletraps. Nothing like seeing logos from airlines-past in various parts of the of the bird. Last time it was an Aeromexico service cart with TWA cabinets.

      I also hope they’ll open up to connections one day, but that would mean paying hotel costs when an MD-80 breaks down and is delayed for hours, meaning many miss connections (speaking from experience).

  6. aerodawg says:

    156 seats on an A319? Are you allowed to Moo as they load you onto these cattle car airliners?

    • aerodawg – a 29 inch seat pitch may sound a little small but it’s only a couple of inches less than economy in a carrier like Delta. Remember these are aircraft with no spacious business seats – it’s all economy from the pointy bit at the front of the aircraft, to the tail at the back.
      At 29 inch pitch Easyjet alone managed to sell over 50 million tickets last year….
      If the fare is cheap enough, people will find a way to put up with a little less leg room for a couple of hours.

    • MeanMeosh says:

      Methinks the 29 inch pitch would still be preferable to 3-4-3 seating on a 777, which seems to be all the rage these days. I’m guessing that even a long Allegiant flight on an A319 would be on the order of 3.5 hours. That might be tight, but try getting stuck in a middle seat on a 15 hour flight from DFW to DXB on one of those 10-abreast EK 777s. That, my friends, is not a fun experience, even with the extra pitch.

  7. JayB says:

    In this industry, the airline business, there are strange birds and then, there are really strange birds. Is anyone stranger than Allegiant?

    Has any small or small mid-size airport city in our fair land (particularly a city hard up for service or about to lose service) not been contacted by Allegiant and courted with:

    “Have I got a deal for you? Destination: Orlando, Laughlin, or any some such similar gaudy place, twice a week, except the week of a Blue Moon, when we’ll fly it three times. Maybe a new aircraft type, too. Seat pitch like you’ve never seen, but hey…all you fine folks have to do is…[drum roll, please]…pay for all start-up infrastructure, handle everything for us at your airport at your expense and, oh yeh, whatever we need, like fuel, sell it to us at cost! Wow! Deal?”

    A319, here we come! To each there own, I guess.

    • Paul Wilson says:

      No one is holding a gun to anyone’s head to get on an Allegiant airplane… the only profitable US airline for 38 consecutive quarters tells the tale… Oh…. and it’s To each “THEIR OWN”…

      • JayB says:

        Paul, your, that’s you’re, right in both cases. And, Allegiant does pass along some very low fairs, that’s fares, of course!

        No guns here. Just my comment.

  8. Shame on you Cranky for referring to the overwing exits on the 319 (or any aircraft) as: overwing exit DOORS. An overwing escape is NOT a door. only exits that are floor-level are considered doors. Since window exits are not floor-level, they are window exits

    • stan says:

      pedantic much?

      • FRANK says:

        well, if you’re going to discuss the AIRLINE INDUSTRY, use correct terminology. Window and/or Door. Yes, they’re different.

    • David M says:

      This post actually cleared something up for me. I’ve noticed in safety videos sometimes (like on the 757-300 I flew last weekend) that they’ll say things like “This aircraft has 8 emergency exit doors equipped with slide rafts. There are also four window exits over the wings equipped with slides.” Now I know why.

      I think for most people, a door is something you enter or exit through that opens and closes. A window is something you can see through, possibly opening/closing to let air pass through in. A window can be embedded in a door. But a person wouldn’t exit through a window.

      Though emergency exit windows exist outside of airplanes. Busses have them too.

  9. Pingback: Update on new Allegiant airplanes | Whatcom County Business

  10. Eric says:

    Fantastic analysis. Great color on the extra door.

    The EasyJet planes already have 156 seats. Perhaps removing the extra row of seats would delay service? Also, the extra FA could help sell more and potentially help offset the extra cost.

    • Noah says:

      considering the costs (salary, per diem, benefits, healthcare, hotel room, and backup/reserve crew) they need a lot of sales out of that one FA and truly full flights to make it worthwhile…

  11. Joni says:

    Flight to Sioux Falls via LAX cancelled by Allegiant for our flight 9/23/12…..this comes after they changed the date on our upcoming trip too . Rec’d an e-mail stating that we must respond immediately if we wanted a refund. I responded by e-mail as requested and faxed a letter stating the same. I’ve yet to hear from anyone. Our trip was over $1,000.00 for three of us. I’m hoping they follow thru on their promise so we can re-book on another airline. Any suggestions to get them moving???

  12. Joni says:

    Whoops, an important fact on Allegiant comment above. ALL flights to Sioux Falls cancelled for those trips booked 8/12/12 and thereafter. They’re vacating their space at LAX per LA Times. Cancellation was done by ALLIGIANT not the customer.

  13. Joni says:

    Appreciate the update. I’ll check out your post.

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