Allegiant Struggles In Hawai’i, Tries a Different Approach

Allegiant’s start of service in Hawai’i has been anything but smooth sailing. There have been repeated operational issues with the airline’s 757s and that has left some very unhappy travelers stranded. But that issue is a side note compared to the bigger question of whether Allegiant’s model would even work in the Hawaiian market. We now have some signs that it’s not working out as well as the airline probably hoped. It’s trying something new instead.

Back in April, Allegiant announced it was slashing service to Hawai’i this Fall. Some people saw that as a retreat, but I wasn’t one of those. Allegiant has never been shy about shifting schedules during off-peak periods, and this fit into the airline’s historical behavior patterns. I think I’ll have to take that back considering what we’ve seen in the last couple weeks.

First, we saw Allegiant cut the number of flight attendant jobs in Honolulu from 37 to 20. That wouldn’t make much sense if it was a temporary reduction in service. But then Allegiant released it schedule through mid-February and we could see that the cut wasn’t temporary (or at least, not entirely). Through the heart of the holiday season and winter, Allegiant is operating far fewer flights to Hawai’i than it does this summer. Here’s how it looks.

Allegiant Winter 2014 Schedule

Of the nine cities Allegiant serves this summer, only four will still have service next winter. Two of those, Bellingham and Las Vegas, are the only ones that retain service through the Fall, so it’s no surprise. But Vegas continues with its twice weekly Fall schedule instead of the three times weekly it has this summer. Of the rest, only Boise and Spokane each bring back their one weekly flight. While Allegiant flies 17 weekly flights to Hawai’i this summer, it will have only eight in the winter. And two of those are to a new destination… Los Angeles.

If you look at the service pattern, it appears that what works for Allegiant elsewhere — infrequent service from small cities to big leisure destinations — isn’t working in Hawai’i. The two markets that appear to be doing the best (since they keep Fall service) are Vegas and Bellingham. Think of Bellingham as really an alternate airport for big city Vancouver and you have two large cities connecting to a large leisure destination in Honolulu. Boise and Spokane are certainly much smaller, but they are bigger than your traditional Allegiant spoke city. And Boise and Spokane are the only two remotely small cities left going to Hawai’i for the airline.

Just those moves, however, wouldn’t make me think Allegiant was getting desperate here. After all, some markets work and some markets don’t. But the fact that the airline is going to add twice weekly flights from LA to Honolulu puts up all kinds of red flags. That move says to me that the small city operation isn’t working out, or we would have seen more efforts at tweaking it. Instead, what we see is Allegiant isn’t having much luck and it needs a new strategy.

Allegiant has to look no further than what is working in Hawai’i — Vegas and Bellingham/Vancouver. The airline must be finding that there is room to get a price advantage to Hawai’i flying from big cities. So now it’ll try the very busy LA-Honolulu market where fares can get pretty high on the leisure end of the spectrum. This is more of a Spirit-style operation, but Spirit doesn’t have any airplanes that can get to Hawai’i anyway… yet. So Allegiant will give it a shot and not have to worry about other ultra low cost carriers coming in for awhile.

I could be wrong. I suppose we could see all those old flights come back next summer. But I’m now pretty skeptical.

[Original map via Great Circle Mapper]

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