Allegiant Fights AirTran, Enters Orlando

AirTran, Allegiant, MCO - Orlando

For years we’ve heard Allegiant proclaim that they don’t really like competition. They’ve often boasted about how few of their routes have competitors, and they’ve had no qualms about walking away from a route that suddenly performs poorly thanks to new entrants (Greensboro comes to mind). Now, Allegiant has had enough. They’ve found some competition from AirTran that they aren’t willing to shy away from. They’re moving some flights from Orlando/Sanford to Orlando International next year. It’s war.

Allegiant Starts Orlando Flights

Allegiant has a substantial base in Orlando, but the flights go from little-used Sanford Airport on the northeast side of town. The airport is a really cheap place to operate, and that’s always good, but there’s a problem. The tourist attractions are southwest of town, much closer to the main Orlando International airport. Now you can understand why Sanford is cheap.

It’s 50 miles right through downtown Orlando and at least an hour from Sanford to Disney World. It’s 25 miles from Orlando International to Disney World and that avoids downtown entirely. When you have 4 screaming kids in the back wanting to meet Mickey, every few minutes helps.

So now, beginning on Feb 1, they will move flights to 10 of their 31 destinations from Sanford over to Orlando International Airport. The cities that will be moving?

  • Knoxville
  • Lexington
  • Allentown (Feb 8)
  • Greenville/Spartanburg (Feb 8)
  • Grand Rapids (Feb 12)
  • Springfield, Missouri (Feb 15)
  • Tri-Cities, Tennessee/Virginia (Feb 15)
  • Huntington, West Virginia (Feb 16)
  • Youngstown, Ohio (Mar 4)
  • Des Moines, Iowa (Mar 5)

So how did they pick these markets? Well, see those lines in bold? Those are markets where AirTran flies nonstop from Orlando. I took a couple liberties. AirTran flies to Branson, not Springfield. They also fly to Charleston, not Huntington; Akron/Canton, not Youngstown; and Asheville, not Tri-Cities or Greenville/Spartanburg. But those are all within 100 miles of each other so they are certainly competitive when it comes to leisure travel.

Oh, and that Des Moines flight? AirTran just announced it would begin March 6. Allegiant now starts one day earlier.

Still need more proof that this is a fight against AirTran? How about this quote from a message sent to the Allegiant employees the night before the public announcement? (MCO is Orlando International’s code.)

This project has been underway for several months, driven by the activity of a competitor which as you know began serving a number of our Orlando markets to and from MCO. We believe they view their MCO service provides them with a competitive advantage. Our MCO offering will level the playing field. We have developed our Orlando routes over the past five years and as such will react appropriately to provide our customers a service equal to or better than the competitor’s proposed offering.

Wow, we don’t hear things like this from Allegiant, but I like it. It’s one thing to pull out of routes here and there if competition is around, but AirTran is effectively trying to tackle Allegiant’s routes out of Orlando on the whole. Allegiant has better flexibility with its airplanes than AirTran thanks to low fixed costs, and it has a strong network of packaging options available to help it get the advantage. There’s no reason they shouldn’t be defending this.

And really, this move to the main airport in Orlando isn’t out of character. They already fly to the main airport in Vegas, Ft Lauderdale, and LA. Yes, Sanford is a cheaper place to operate, but when that family of four wants to go to Disney, that extra drive may be enough to help AirTran succeed. Allegiant is going to fight that and try to prevent that from happening.

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20 comments on “Allegiant Fights AirTran, Enters Orlando

  1. That will bring up their costs to operate from two airports with two sets of employees. Or since their flights operate a couple of times a week, they might have employees going back and forth between the two. It should confuse people as to witch airport to go to since repeat travelers will head to Sanford out of habit.

    Maybe they don’t do so well out of Orlando and just want to test the MCO waters to see if that picks up business and maybe move everything to MCO on day.

    The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence as the saying goes. Looks like Allegiant wants to hop over that fence.

  2. I fly to Orlando once or twice a year. Last time I stayed near MCO, but drove downtown via Semoran and didn’t realize how close Sanford was – only about 10 miles up a wide arterial surface street. I don’t think the distance is enough to make a difference if the savings merit.

    However I wonder if ground transport would affect a large family’s decision too. Car rentals are dirt cheap at MCO – and the arrivals level is populated by more shuttle vans and tour buses to attractions than I’ve ever seen at any airport.

    Not sure what rental agencies serve Sanford, but I’d imagine the network isn’t as substantial at Sanford.

  3. David SFeastbay wrote:

    It should confuse people as to witch airport to go to since repeat travelers will head to Sanford out of habit.
    Maybe they don’t do so well out of Orlando and just want to test the MCO waters to see if that picks up business and maybe move everything to MCO on day.

    I doubt they’ll have this problem. I’d surmise Allegiant doesn’t get a huge number of repeat fliers. Probably just folks who fly once a year if that, they’ll not have to think about rental cars etc, since Allegiant will bundle them in for them.

    Now the real question is Allegiant’s main disadvantage: They’re only flying one or two days a week to each of these locations right?

  4. Nicholas Barnard wrote:

    Now the real question is Allegiant’s main disadvantage: They’re only flying one or two days a week to each of these locations right?

    They adjust it based on demand. I see that as a big advantage, actually. During the peak periods, they can add as many flights as they want. But during the soft periods, they can park the planes. For business travelers, consistency matters, but for the once a year leisure folks, they just care that they can go nonstop for cheap and usually can tweak their days a little if necessary.

  5. We used to fly Allegiant exclusively to reach our base in Kentucky, but when
    Air Tran announced their TYS service, all business was instantly moved over. I’m Elite with them, and almost every single flight has been full and they do very well selling upgrades into Business Class. One would assume that biz would be empty, but alas I’ve been in Coach on my last few trips. (Airtran gives elites free upgrades @ gate)

  6. Do those once-a-year flyers actually look closely enough at the airport location when they book a flight? I would think they are mostly focussed on the price.

  7. The GSP flights will be interesting to watch. DL used to fly to both Tampa and Orlando but pulled, I suppose, after Allegiant entered both markets. I wonder how loads are doing.

  8. @ SmarteCart Thief:

    FLL has been seeing service to the secondary market, not RSW/TPA.

    FLL got LEX, MDT and ABE, and will likely be getting a few more.

    I think FLL will get TYS, CRW and AVL very soon.

  9. james wrote:

    I fly to Orlando once or twice a year. Last time I stayed near MCO, but drove downtown via Semoran and didn’t realize how close Sanford was – only about 10 miles up a wide arterial surface street. I don’t think the distance is enough to make a difference if the savings merit.
    However I wonder if ground transport would affect a large family’s decision too. Car rentals are dirt cheap at MCO – and the arrivals level is populated by more shuttle vans and tour buses to attractions than I’ve ever seen at any airport.
    Not sure what rental agencies serve Sanford, but I’d imagine the network isn’t as substantial at Sanford.

    It is much more than 10 miles from SFB to MCO, and that adds a lot when you think about taxi fares. It costs about $110 each way for a taxi from SFB to the attractions. Add that to the price of your low cost ticket, and it is now cheaper to fly into MCO. Once a year passengers need to consider more than just the plane ticket before they go, especially in this day and age.

  10. @ Oliver:

    I think the big difference is if Allegiant partners with Disney for their Magic Kingdom Express service. I flew Allegiant from ELM-SFB last summer and was disappointed that I couldn’t use the free shuttle service from SFB. That right there will be appealing to a lot of Disney tourists and could be a reason behind Allegiant’s move…

  11. Steve wrote:

    @ SmarteCart Thief:
    FLL has been seeing service to the secondary market, not RSW/TPA.
    FLL got LEX, MDT and ABE, and will likely be getting a few more.
    I think FLL will get TYS, CRW and AVL very soon.

    FL = Air Tran
    FLL = Fort Lauderdale

  12. Allegiant may be going after AirTran for Orlando but in my mind AirTran has the clear advantage. Allegiant has a unique business model but AirTran is the more established and quite frankly the the far superior airline. Its a fight that should be won by AirTran now we just have to wait and see if they will.

  13. HOW DO YOU GET IN TOUCH WITH THESE GUYS? I HAVE LOOKED EVERYWHERE FOR THEIR LINES TO GET A FLIGHT. DO I HAVE TO PULL TEETH TO FIND THEM?

  14. Besides a fight in Orlando, looks like they are going to start another new battle over the Pacific. They announced today the purchase of 6 757-200’s for Hawaii service.

    Should be interesting to see how they use them. Since they don’t do connecting service it must going to be point to point from the western USA. Hawaiians love going to Vegas so it could work competing against HA’s nonstop LAS-HNL.

  15. David SFeastbay wrote:

    Besides a fight in Orlando, looks like they are going to start another new battle over the Pacific. They announced today the purchase of 6 757-200’s for Hawaii service.
    Should be interesting to see how they use them. Since they don’t do connecting service it must going to be point to point from the western USA. Hawaiians love going to Vegas so it could work competing against HA’s nonstop LAS-HNL.

    I have some pretty interesting ideas about this one. I’m writing it up for Monday.

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