When considering new routes, U.S. discount airline Allegiant Air has a simple strategy: It flies where other airlines do not.
It's a profitable approach
. But it requires the airline's network planners — the people who pick new routes — to be creative. Allegiant is growing, but its planners can't rely on obvious routes, like New York to Chicago, or L.A. to Seattle. Usually, they must build markets where none exist.
That's how, about five years ago, Allegiant created a base in Punta Gorda, a Western Florida airport with no commercial service. Today, Allegiant flies from Punta Gorda — it's between Fort Myers and Sarasota — to more than 30 smaller- and medium-sized cities, including St. Cloud, Minnesota; Knoxville, Tennessee; Springfield, Illinois; and Des Moines, Iowa. Allegiant is so bullish on the service it's building a resort hotel and condominium property nearby
so it can sell vacation packages to passengers.
As an air market, Punta Gorda was "discovered" by Lukas Johnson, the airline's senior vice president for commercial. Now, Allegiant is building a base in Florida's panhandle, expanding at Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport. Other carriers fly there, but focus more on shuttling business traffic to their hubs.
Expanding in Destin, which Johnson calls a "huge success," is a project led by Kristen Shilling-Gonzalez, Allegiant's director of planning.For a story published Monday
, I spoke to Shilling-Gonzalez about what she's looking for in new routes, and how Allegiant decides which aircraft to use. She was candid, explaining why Allegiant sometimes cancels routes before they start, telling us why the airline can't use its MD-80s in the Las Vegas summer heat, and revealing that travelers who tend to drive between two points are a target market. She also gave us the scoop on why Allegiant doesn't like coast-to-coast routes, and when the airline will fly abroad.
What do you think of Allegiant's unusual approach? Do you think Allegiant is smart to stick with its niche? Or should it compete with big airlines more often?
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