How Allegiant Found Itself Nearly Homeless at LAX

If you live in LA and are a fan of Allegiant (or Sioux Falls, Billings, and Pasco), you aren’t going to be happy. The airline is struggling to find a gate to use at LAX, but it can’t. So as of September 1, it is cutting three cities from its LAX schedule. This descent into homelessness is partially because of a temporary construction problem blocking some gates, but that doesn’t mean it’s a problem that couldn’t have been overcome with some creativity. It appears, however, that LAX isn’t interested in being creative. How did we get here? I’ll explain.

Allegiant Homeless at LAX

Really, we can just blame Alaska Airlines for all this. Not really, but that is where our story begins. Allegiant was using Terminal 6 for its operation at LAX, but Alaska made a deal to take over most of that terminal after putting in a bunch of money to fix it up. That left Allegiant in a bind. So when Alaska moved in, Allegiant made a deal with Delta to use a gate over there. See, Delta controls Terminal 5 and it apparently had some room for Allegiant. So Allegiant kept its ticket counter in Terminal 6 but had a gate in Terminal 5 right next door. Was it perfect? No, but it worked fine. Allegiant was lucky that Delta was willing.

The problem, of course, is that Delta reserved the right to tell Allegiant to go away if it needed the gate space in its own terminal (as it should). Sure enough, that time comes on September 1. Delta can still give Allegiant some room in Terminal 5 but not enough to run the entire operation. So Allegiant did what you would expect it would do. It went to the airport for help.

LAWA’s Lack of Options
Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), the agency which runs LAX along with Ontario and Van Nuys airports, didn’t have an ideal option to give. Terminals 7 and 8 are under United’s control. We already talked about Terminals 5 and 6. Terminal 4 is under American’s control. And Terminal 1 is bursting at the seams with Southwest/AirTran and US Airways. I can’t imagine the Bradley international terminal was an option, so that left Terminals 2 and 3.

Terminal 3 is the natural fit. When Alaska left, there was a ton of room in Terminal 3. But LAWA is busy building a palatial new concourse at the Bradley terminal and there’s a lot of taxiway work going on as part of that project. So, LAWA decided to shut off a bunch of gates in Terminal 3 until that work is done. According to a presentation I found, that should be at the end of 2012. (After repeated requests, LAWA never did get me the exact answer as to when that should be completed so I started digging myself.)

That left Terminal 2 for Allegiant. Clearly that wasn’t an option because the flights are going away, but I couldn’t understand why initially. Terminal 2 has almost no domestic operations anymore, so it should have some decent gate availability during the day when Allegiant would need it. I went to LAWA to ask why Allegiant couldn’t get gate space, and the PR team didn’t seem to even know that there was an issue. I told them a press release had been put out by Allegiant about it and they asked me to forward it on to them so they could see it.

Terminal 2 to the Rescue?
After doing some digging, LAWA came back and told me that Allegiant had in fact been offered space at Terminal 2. The plot thickens. So why would Allegiant turn that down? This is the point where you assume it’s some political game. Maybe those Allegiant routes weren’t doing well and this was a convenient excuse to end them. Or maybe Allegiant is trying to use this to get lower rates somehow. It wouldn’t be the first time something like that has happened in this industry.

But that doesn’t seem to be the case. I went back to Allegiant and asked about Terminal 2. There were apparently two reasons why this wouldn’t work. First, the technology used in that terminal is SITA technology, and Allegiant isn’t SITA certified. You would think that’s Allegiant’s problem, but Allegiant spokesperson Jessica Wheeler did say that LAWA “did not want to allow any work around.”

Really, however, that’s not as big of a deal as reason number two. Apparently, LAWA couldn’t get them decent ticket counter space. According to Jessica, “we were told we would have to switch ticket counters in the middle of check in. The counters they wanted us to use were 450 feet apart. When we suggested using portable carts rather than counters they said no.”

Wow, that sounds unworkable to me. Oh, but there was one more solution . . . go to Ontario.

Give me a break. If Ontario were cheap, then I bet Allegiant would be there already. But it costs more to operate at Ontario than at LAX today and it’s in a far less desirable location. No airline in its right mind would make that move today.

That leaves us where we are today. Allegiant is cutting three cities. (I assume those are their worst performers.) And since Allegiant just found out about this problem (thanks Delta), it has to cancel flights that are less than a month away. That means there is real inconvenience here. On top of that, the remaining flights will likely have to be rescheduled in order to fit into the times it has gate access. There are going to be a lot of angry travelers.

I just find it incredible that LAWA couldn’t find a workable solution to this problem. I’m assuming it’s because it didn’t really feel the need to work hard at this. You always hear them throwing out numbers about how important new international flights are to the LA economy, but they don’t care nearly as much about domestic operations. That means a lot of potential travelers aren’t getting flights that should be operating. What a shame.


47 Responses to How Allegiant Found Itself Nearly Homeless at LAX

  1. Sanjeev M says:

    Eww. LAX should have gone with Toast Rack like LHR years ago instead of some half-assed overpriced Bradley renovations.

    This sucks for Allegiant customers who can’t exactly be rerouted on another flight cause its Allegiant.

  2. Sounds like LAX would be a good recipient of a Jackass award….. go on Cranky, you know you want to give them one !

  3. Chris says:

    Why is all the blame going on LAWA? They gave Allegiant some options and Allegiant decided to take their toys and go home. Did Allegiant try and make arrangements with other carriers?

    • Hunter says:

      Refusing options that are somewhat ridiculous or not really options doesn’t make you a whiner. T3 wasn’t an option even though LAWA offered it. T2 might have worked if LAWA was open to a creative solution (mobile check in carts), but they weren’t. As a passenger checking in, would you really want your airline to close the counter and send you 500 feet down the terminal halfway through the process?

  4. Ron says:

    Cranky, it looks like these flights were going away anyway. As I commented on yesterday’s post (in reply to David’s comment), a couple of weeks ago it already looked like the Billings flights were going to disappear mid-November, and a quick check of OAG (via the LAWA web site) still shows the last flights to the three cities on November 11-12, while the rest of Allegiant’s schedule goes further than that. Do you have access to better tools for a little forensic search to try and see when Allegiant really made the decision to drop these cities?

    • CF says:

      Ron – I don’t have access to tools to show when the changes were made, but people with the schedule tapes could pull it. Still, I don’t think there’s any big conspiracy here. Allegiant drops markets all the time. It has no problem walking away from markets that don’t work. So there would be zero reason to make this up.

      • Ron says:

        Not suggesting a conspiracy — they planned to drop the markets in November, then they had this gate problem, so they dropped them a couple months early. It doesn’t look like Allegiant was that eager to fight for keeping the flights.

  5. Ted says:

    What, LAWA doesn’t work well with the airlines? I’m shocked. There’s never been any issues before….oh, wait.

  6. Sounds like it could be a little of everyones fault, both the airport and Allegiant.

    Will Allegiant bring these cities back at a later time once contruction at LAX eases? That would be one way of knowing if these cities were not making money or not.

    Dropping these cities for that slow period between summer and end of year holidays Allegiant could blame the airport as the reason without them looking bad for cutting service on their own while saving money and using the planes somewhere else for the time being.

    But if the service doesn’t return we’ll known they were not making money so put the blame of dropping the routes on the airport so again they don’t look bad and everyone will have forgotten about it months from now.

    It is interesting how during the fall slow period there isn’t room for an airline to operate the service they have been operating all along. Fall is when airlines cut the extra service they put on during the busy summer period. Does this mean airlines have been operating at a base level of service and have nothing to cut back this fall?

    • “while saving money and using the planes somewhere else for the time being” Or if your Allegiant, just park the plane since it was so cheap in the first place..

  7. So I’m unclear on two things:
    1. The split check in counter.. Is it something like Allegiant would do the first half of a check in at one counter, then send the customer 450 feet to complete the check in? Or is it flexible space thats rented to certain airlines at certain hours and they’d have to close the counter then reopen it in a different location at a later time..
    2. Re: SITA Technology… This perhaps is an ask cranky or a guest post, but how exactly does that work? I’d presume that the signage at an airport has standardized interface into the airlines system? Or am I being a tech and not an airline geek on that matter?

    • Noah says:

      Cranky, I agree, its time for a SITA / Common use education post

    • CF says:

      Honestly, I’m not the right guy to write that post, at least not without a lot more research. Basically, I believe it’s just a system that they use for the computer systems in the terminal. So airlines can only use the terminals in the, um, terminal if they are compatible with that system.

      Oh, and Nick, it was flexible space that would require them to move their entire check in operation after a certain point in the day.

      • Ugh on the having to move the checking counter at a point in the day. Given that its flexible the problem should be able to be solved by reworking some scheduling.. I fault LAWA on even forcing Allegiant to have to mention of the mobile check in cart idea..

      • BW says:

        Regarding SITA, it may have something to do with the baggage sortation system. When a passenger checks a bag the reservation system has to send a message to the sortation system at the airport so it knows where to send the bag when it hits the belt. There’s a standard IATA (telex) format for the message but the communication mechanism varies depending on who built the hardware. Part of SITA’s business is to take the pain away from talking to and supporting different sortation systems. In most places the sortation systems are owned and operated by the airport. Sometimes the airport pushes that off to SITA because they don’t want to do the support and provide the communication infrastructure. Maybe LAX has that arrangement with SITA for T2 and Allegiant can’t or won’t talk to SITA. All of that costs money and may not be worth it for a temporary solution for just a few flights, especially adding in the split counter business. If that’s true, I’m guessing that Allegiant thought it would make more sense for them just to pay a couple extra people to sort bags manually and the airport nixed it.

        At least that’s my limited understanding of how all that stuff works. I’m no expert.

  8. John says:

    Hi, I am no LAXpert, and this may be a silly idea, but it seems to me that the Imperial Terminal and it environs would be the Allegiant type atmosphere, and could / should cost less to operate than the mainstrem terminals. Just sayin, go from one backwater city (meant in the best possible way everyone, it is where I am from) to a backwater terminal…seems to be a cultural fit…

    • John, the Imerial Terminal is a museum/learning center now.

    • CF says:

      Yeah, the Imperial Terminal would need a lot of work to be brought back to life. It is the FlightPath museum now and the baggage claim area is in bad shape. I guarantee you that Allegiant would like nothing more than to operate out of there for cheap, but I also guarantee you that LAWA would never do something so friendly.

      • Ron says:

        If it needs a lot of work to be brought back to life, then it won’t be cheap to operate from…

        • CF says:

          Ron – Nah, it needs a lot of work, but it’s barely a structure. I mean, it’s open-sided to the elements and there is no real infrastructure. So it shouldn’t be that expensive to fix it.

  9. Noah says:

    LAWA should have offered ONT for a short term lease at the LAX rate in order to keep the flights, then require Allegiant to move back to LAX or pay the higher rate…

    Now, LAWA is missing out on revenue, and hurting pax!

    ONT is more expensive, and Cranky please educate me, but I doubt the direct costs are actually higher. As in, at LAX rates, ONT isn’t losing money serving the flights…

    • CF says:

      There is a cost to an airline to move an operation so I can’t imagine Allegiant wanting to do that for just a few months. It takes some serious education for your customers. If Allegiant were to move to Ontario, it would be a more permanent one, but the charges are a least a couple bucks more per passenger there than they are in LA.

  10. cjensen says:

    How about service out of Burbank with an Airbus A-319? I believe that it can handle the shorter runway and they are going to have them in the fleet in the very near future.

    • CF says:

      Burbank with an A319 would definitely work. Good thinking. You have to imagine that this would solve Allegiant’s problems quite nicely since Burbank is incredibly cheap. But it’s still a ways away.

  11. Becky says:

    Allegiant also discontinued service to Grand Junction from LAX at the same time. I assume the same happened here–not enough traffic to sustain the route. I had heard the flight was being discontinued, but there was nothing posted on their website and I had to call to wrestle the information from them.

  12. Johnny Plane says:

    Somehow I’m not surprised, LAWA doesn’t know how to manage an airport. Their stupidity clearly showed in their idea to have LAX become mainly international and ONT solely regional.

  13. All LAW needed to do, from Day 1, offer a deal to use Ontario!!!!!!!!!! As a frequent flyer, I so rarely use ONT, even though I am less than 1/2 hour away. I usually go to PSP, SNA or Long Beach. How does that help ONT or LAW??? When I do go to LAW, I choose not to buy anything in the airport. They have SO MESSED up ONT. Delta is dropping its last mainline flight, because of the inflated costs. Jet Blue left for Long Beach (and LAX).

    Bottom Line: Cut some deals and fill ONT up. Do that and the revenue will follow. Continue to put all your resources into LAX and drive more and more business to other (non-LAW) airports!

  14. Your analysis is right on the money. LAWA is so poorly mismanaged: just look at how they are mistreating ONT, driving it into the ground. I agree with John, maybe Allegiant could use the Imperial Terminal if it’s available (Flight Paath museum is there now, but maybe a gate or two might be available).

  15. yo says:

    LAX is such an annoying place. Usually T2 is a graveyard or the island of unwanted airlines. I swear, every fly by night airline used T2, they can’t accommodate Allegiant?

    Move to El Toro.

  16. Mark says:

    Thanks for the great post! I found this to be a fascinating inside look at how airlines and airports interact (or don’t interact). You should consider rewriting for a general audience for publication as an article in a mainstream publication — I think a lot of other people who do not regard themselves as airline dorks would also appreciate your reporting and analysis, and the implications on passenger service out of LAX.

  17. Jimbo says:

    Regarding T-2. It?s a 100% common use facility, and yes all airlines need to be have SITA as a IT gateway to access their own systems. LAWA, nor anyone should allow an airline to come in and have to run its own lines and computer equipment. That defeats the benefits of common use!

    Regarding the mobile carts, LAX like all airports has regulations on how things from signage to the manner airlines operate. It would be rather tacky to allow someone to set up shop in the middle of a busy lobby. The way things work in T-2, is an airline like G4 would need to sublease ticket counters from someone that has they already as there are not open vacant ones available all times of the day that Allegiant comes and goes at.

    At the end, this fiasco is Allegiants making. From day one at LAX they could have entered into a long term facility leases like virtually everyone else does instead of living month to month. Other carriers like Frontier have also gotten burned by failing to commit to a firm home and have moved 3 times in a few years. LAX is a big airport, and its takes a few dollars to play like the big boys.

    So, just because G4 opted to operate on the cheap such as not having membership in SITA, this is neither LAWA, Delta?s or anyone else fault.

  18. Gman says:

    Poor planning(or being ultra thrifty in this case maybe) on Allegiant’s part is not a reason for LAWA, Delta, Terminal-2 consortium, or anyone else to turn their facility or policy upside down.
    Allegiant simply needs to follow the airport-101 business norms and go with the flow.

  19. Frank S says:

    Homeless at LAX — Sounds like a movie.

    Seriously, sounds like Allegiant has itself to blame to a large degree.

    If it was only willing to part with some dough it certainly could have invested in the long term lease of gates and ticket counters similar to other airlines.

  20. yo says:

    Allegiant is learning the lesson of “the high cost of being cheap”

  21. Jonah says:

    The people who run LAWA are dirtbags. Allegiant is child’s play. 15 subcontractors on the Bradley money pit had to declare bankruptcy because LAWA refused to pay them for change orders that LAWA managment didn’t have its Board of Airport Commissioners approve, as it was required to do. More than $200M in unapproved change orders were issued, then not paid for by LAWA.

  22. Claudia says:

    I can tell you as a one that used the flight from GJ to LAX on a regular basis this really stinks! To bad Allegiant couldn’t get into Long Beach or even John Wayne. There is a lot of growth at Orange County right now, I would think that they would love to have Allegiant for the revenue as would Long Beach. Besides, getting in and out of those two airports is so much easier! I guess I am back to flying with US Airways! Darn, I really liked Allegiant.

  23. Linda says:

    Thanks for the info Cranky. I know I am late if finding this, but Allegiant just quit service from springfield, MO to LAX. The flights were always jam packed full and a very necessary service. It was great to have a non-stop flight to LA so that bags didnt always get lost as when we would go through Dallas or denver on other airlines!!! Now I have a bit better understanding of what happened, even though understanding does not equte with liking it.

  24. Jason says:

    I just got a fare watcher email for Allegiant flights from Sioux Falls to LAX. Are they bringing back their cancelled routes?

  25. JR says:

    LAX to Billings and back is almost always 75 percent or greater. I find it hard to believe that seats sold was the reason they cut the Billings flights. Sure, it came back in the summer, but now, no more BIL – LAX. Forget this seasonal routes crap!

  26. Christina says:

    This is rotten! How about smaller airports that Allegiant already uses, maybe Fresno? Help us out in Sioux Falls we want to go back to CA for winter break!

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