Saturday, September 10, 2016

More air passengers jetting out of Provo, Ogden - Utah



Attracted by offers of cheaper fares and the convenience of less-crowded airports, a growing number of Wasatch Front residents are jetting out of Provo and Ogden.

The number of passengers in Provo has more than doubled since 2013, while Ogden saw a more modest 6.7 percent increase during the same period.

About 130,000 passengers passed through the Provo airport last year, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. That's about 169 times fewer than the 22 million who used Salt Lake City International Airport — helping to make for a more leisurely experience. About 30,000 used the Ogden airport, or 733 times fewer than Salt Lake City International's count.

The increases are "all about low fares and convenience," said Keith Hansen, vice president of airports and government relations for Allegiant Air, the only airline serving Ogden and Provo. It does not fly to Salt Lake City International.

"What we love about small airports, and Provo and Ogden fit right in, is that you land and you are two minutes, at most, away from your rental car. Or if you drove and parked, you're two minutes away. You don't have the big intimidating airport with a long walk and a train and everything else."

The smaller airports also often offer lower airfares. Allegiant's one-way base fares often start at $45 out of Provo and Ogden to Western destinations. However, that airline adds fees for any desired carry-on and checked baggage, snacks and reserved seating, which can more than double the base fare, depending on what's purchased.

Allegiant generally offers flights a few days per week out of those airports, when demand is highest, to avoid losing money on low-demand travel days. Because of that, it sells no connecting flights — only direct service to such places as Phoenix, Los Angeles, Oakland, Calif., and San Diego.

Still, "The planes are full" out of Provo and Ogden, Hansen said. "We feel very good about Provo and Ogden."

Las Vegas-based Allegiant, which serves 118 airports nationwide, uses a business plan that targets price-conscious leisure travelers instead of business passengers, and focuses on underserved or otherwise unserved airports.

"In the case of Provo and Ogden, those were both unserved airports at the time we started flying there," Hansen said.

In 2012, Allegiant started twice-a-week service between Ogden and Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport. It has not increased flight offerings since.

"We've certainly had discussions with the airport and the city about adding additional routes," Hansen said. "It's certainly possible it could grow, but for right now, we're at a good place."

Allegiant's service in Provo began in February 2013 (after Frontier Airlines ended a two-year experiment with flights from there to Denver), also with flights to Phoenix-Mesa. It has since added flights to Los Angeles and Oakland, and it will begin service to San Diego on Sept. 29.

Frequency also has increased on some of those routes, including seasonal six-days-a-week flights to Phoenix-Mesa.

Provo service may be growing more quickly because "you've got two big universities there — Utah Valley and Brigham Young universities." Hansen said. "I certainly think that helps."

But a bigger factor is "people not wanting to drive all the way up to Salt Lake," Hansen said. "In Provo and Ogden, you can fly right out of your backyard if you live in those communities."

The smaller airports also come with the advantage of cheaper parking. Economy lots at Salt Lake City International charge $9 a day, compared to $4.50 at Provo and $3.50 at Ogden.

Passengers are coming not just from Ogden and Provo, Hansen said, but many are driving from Salt Lake County. "People are going to drive for low fares."

Hilarie Grey, director of corporate communications for Allegiant, said her airline targets leisure travelers who are trying to save money to afford vacations. One way Allegiant keeps fares low, Hansen said, is by what it calls "the unbundled mile."

"That means that you pay for the items that you want on top of the base-fare ticket," he said. "So we don't include in the cost of the ticket any bags, any drinks, any snacks, seat assignments."

Hansen acknowledges that this practice brought criticism that some consumers feel nickel-and-dimed to death.

But, he said, "If you don't want to check a bag, you shouldn't have to check a bag. If you don't want pretzels, peanuts, chips and a Coke on a plane, you shouldn't have to pay for it. While others offer that for 'free,' what they are doing is figuring the cost of that into the ticket. So you pay for it whether you want it or not."

Allegiant's average one-way fare in the region is $75, Hansen said, compared to a $189 average in the industry. Once ancillary items most people want are added in, he said, Allegiant's average charge rises to $109, compared to an industry average of $196.

Baggage fees on Allegiant can be as expensive as the airfare itself. In Ogden and Provo, the airline charges $50 per bag ­— for carry-on or checked baggage — if the fee is paid at the airport. If paid at booking, the fee is $15 for a carry-on, and $20 for a checked bag.

Unlike most airlines, Allegiant does not sell connecting flights.

"The most important thing we can do is to keep our costs low so that our fares stay low," Hansen said. One way Allegiant does that is flying only when it believes a high demand exists — meaning it may offer some routes twice a week.

"Nobody begins or ends their vacation on a Tuesday," Hansen said. "So Thursday, Friday, Saturday, we tend to be pretty busy. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, we have a pretty light schedule."

By not flying when demand is low, Hansen said, "we're not having to charge so much on the peak days to offset what you're losing on the nonpeak days."

Because of complications from the low-frequency offerings, "We don't sell connecting flights." He said some people arrange connections on their own by studying schedules. "But that's not what we're trying to do. We're all about the nonstop flights from your home town to your favorite leisure destination."

Since 2013, Hansen said, 200,000 passengers have boarded Allegiant flights in Provo. Another 65,000 have flown out of Ogden.

Source:   http://www.sltrib.com

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