Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Atlantic City-Florida air service gets lift for winter

South Jersey snowbirds seeking sun and surf will have more flights to Florida's vacation hotspots this winter from Atlantic City International Airport. Discount carrier Spirit Airlines is resuming seasonal service to West Palm Beach starting Thursday as part of a winter buildup that gives Atlantic City International a boost during what has otherwise been a challenging year.

"Atlantic City is an important part of our network," Spirit spokeswoman Misty Pinson said in a statement. "We're looking forward to resuming our popular seasonal service between Atlantic City and Palm Beach International. It's ideal for value-conscious customers from throughout the Jersey Shore area and beyond looking to take advantage of our ultra-low fares, plus options, for a total price that's tough to beat."

Spirit's daily service out of Atlantic City International includes flights to the Florida cities of Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Orlando and Tampa-St. Petersburg. It also flies to the golfing mecca of Myrtle Beach, S.C. Spirit's winter expansion out of Atlantic City will also include beefed-up service to Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers and Orlando effective Dec. 3, the airline's flight schedule shows.

Kevin Rehmann , spokesman for the South Jersey Transportation Authority, the airport owner, said the expanded Florida flights, including the resumption of service to West Palm Beach, reflects Atlantic City's seasonal travel trends.

"It's definitely two seasons here - the summer coming in and the snowbirds going out in the winter," he said.

The nonstop flight to West Palm Beach leaves Atlantic City International at 11:23 a.m. and arrives 1:50 p.m. The return flight departs West Palm Beach at 2:35 p.m. and arrives at Atlantic City at 4:57 p.m.

Although service to West Palm Beach resumes, Spirit will discontinue a daily flight Thursday between Atlantic City and Atlanta that had operated for the summer season. In September, Spirit also halted seasonal service to Detroit, Boston and Chicago, Rehmann noted.

"It just reflects the trend with the people. In Spirit's mind, they aren't going to Detroit anymore. They are going to West Palm," Rehmann said.

Pinson said earlier this year that Spirit cut back its flights because of lower demand following Hurricane Sandy. Atlantic City International is trying to recover from a nearly 25 percent decline in scheduled passenger traffic so far this year, a drop that airport officials blame on the lingering effects of Sandy.

Rehmann said some tourists are still under the impression that Atlantic City was pummeled by the Oct. 29, 2012, hurricane, although the casinos and other major attractions were largely unscathed.

"They think that the entire Atlantic County and Cape May area was devastated by the storm," he said.

Figures compiled by the South Jersey Transportation Authority show that the airport has handled 767,385 scheduled airline passengers through September, compared to slightly more than 1 million for the same period in 2012.

Spirit is Atlantic City's only scheduled airline. The carrier offers discount fares, but charges extra for such things as seat selection and baggage. Spirit's pricing formula helped to boost its profits by 98 percent in the third quarter, to $61.1 million, compared to a year ago. Revenue was up 33 percent, to $456.6 million, for the third quarter, the company reported last week.

Spirit is expected to be a major part of Atlantic City's hoped-for growth strategy under the airport's new operation by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The port authority already oversees the Kennedy, LaGuardia and Stewart airports in New York and the Newark and Teterboro airports in New Jersey. It took over the operation of Atlantic City International in July under an agreement with the South Jersey Transportation Authority.


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