Saturday, August 30, 2014

Spirit Airlines winds down seasonal flights serving Atlantic City, New Jersey

Spirit Airlines is wrapping up seasonal flights to Boston, Chicago and Detroit that helped make Atlantic City International one of the fastest-growing regional airports in the country during the summer holidays.

Service to Boston, Chicago and Detroit ends Tuesday, while another seasonal route to Atlanta stops Nov. 1. Spirit serves all four cities during the spring and summer months to capitalize on Atlantic City’s peak tourist season.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the agency that manages Atlantic City International, is in talks with Spirit and other unnamed airlines about possibly converting the seasonal routes into year-round service that could support the convention industry.

“There are certain markets we believe have year-round viability with the right schedule and support from the community, considering the added convention lift and the overall economic impact that they could bring to the region,” said E.J. Mullins, the Port Authority program director for Atlantic City International. “Discussions with Spirit and other carriers regarding year-round service on certain seasonal routes are ongoing.”

Atlantic City hopes to lure more conventions to offset the spate of casino closings this year, including the planned shutdown of Showboat Casino Hotel on Sunday, Revel Casino Hotel on Tuesday and Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino on Sept. 16. Air service is regarded as key for transporting conventioneers and other business travelers to town for multi-night stays.

Atlanta is viewed as a potential feeder market for Atlantic City conventions. Mullins noted that Spirit’s seasonal Atlanta route might be a candidate for year-round service as part of the carrier’s ongoing fleet expansion.

“This particular route has considerable year-round demand both outbound and inbound,” he said. “In addition to ACY’s brand recognition in the Atlanta market as a convenient low-cost alternative to the region through Spirit’s seasonal service, there is a strong history and positive trend started with service by Delta and AirTran and other low-cost operators within ACY’s market area.”

Both Delta and AirTran flew between Atlanta and Atlantic City in recent years, but halted service after complaining that the route was unprofitable. Continental and US Airways were among other big-name airlines that experimented with Atlantic City flights over the years, but ultimately pulled out. Some of them were given millions of dollars in public subsidies to support their service, but left after those financial incentives ended.

Airport officials are encouraged by this year’s results. Passenger traffic has climbed 11 percent through the first seven months of 2014 compared to the same span last year. The airport is recovering from an 18 percent decline in traffic in 2013 blamed on the lingering effects of Hurricane Sandy on the travel industry.

A jump in summer travel allowed Atlantic City International to post some of the biggest increases in passenger volume among the nation’s regional airports during the Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day holidays, Mullins said.

Spirit’s seasonal flights to Boston, Chicago, Detroit and Atlanta contributed to the growth. Mullins said there were “positive expectations” for those flights heading into the summer, although final figures are not yet available. A Spirit representative could not be reached for comment Friday.

In addition to its seasonal flights, Spirit has succeeded in the Atlantic City market by flying local travelers to Florida vacation spots year-round. United Airlines entered the Atlantic City market in April, launching nonstop flights from its Chicago and Houston hubs.

The Port Authority continues to talk with other airlines about the possibility of starting new service to Atlantic City within the next year, Mullins said. It has lined up about a dozen meetings with airlines at the World Routes industry conference in mid-September in Chicago, he noted.

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