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.

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