Skybus, Allegiant add flights

When Skybus Airlines starts service Wednesday in Chattanooga and Allegiant Air adds flights the following week, the city will be bucking an emerging headwind.

Amid sharply higher fuel prices and looming pilot shortages, airlines are rethinking expansion strategies, said Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport President Mike Landguth.

Boosting service at airports will be "slam-dunk expansions only," he told airport officials recently.

A Skybus spokesman said advance bookings for the Chattanooga-Columbus, Ohio, nonstops are meeting expectations.

"No one expected the market would take off," said Skybus' Bob Tenenbaum. "It's starting to move,"

The low-fare airline sells at least its first 10 tickets on every flight for $10 and, as of late last week, on only one day in December was there a $10 seat available -- on Wednesday, according to the carrier's Web site.

Mr. Tenenbaum said Skybus not only wants to tap the Chattanooga market, but also will woo travelers from the north Atlanta suburbs who don't want to fly from Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

"Some markets it takes a little longer to develop," he said.

Fellow discount carrier Allegiant, meanwhile, is adding nonstop Fort Lauderdale service starting Dec. 13 to its lineup of Orlando and Tampa Bay.

Tyri Squyres, the airline's corporate communications director, said advance bookings in December are slightly above the system average for Fort Lauderdale flights, while January is about average.

"I think we're pretty happy so far," she said.

The Chattanooga market has exceeded Allegiant officials' expectations since the carrier started flying from Lovell Field about a year ago, Ms. Squyres said.

In October, the latest month for which figures are available, Allegiant filled nearly 90 percent of its available seats out of Chattanooga, according to the airport.

Mr. Landguth said the addition of Skybus and Allegiant's expansion strengthens Chattanooga's air service market by growing competition.

"Competition is the driving force behind lower fares, and our local travelers are benefiting from those low fares in Chattanooga," he said.

What should fliers expect on Skybus? Mr. Tenenbaum said it's sort of an a la carte experience.

While costs to fly should be much less than typical carriers, passengers will pay $5 to check a bag, he said. Food and drink also is for sale on the planes, Mr. Tenenbaum said.

He said the airline has found that fliers new to Skybus mistakenly believe that because of the low fares, the flying experience will be unpleasant.

"These aircraft are virtually brand new," Mr. Tenenbaum said about the full-size jets which typically hold either 144 or 156 seats.

E-mail Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com


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