Las Vegas gamble paying off ; Airport says up to 85% of seats filled on flights

Nearly 1,000 passengers took Allegiant Air flights to Las Vegas last month, the first full month of service from Springfield.

Now, airport officials are trying to sell the discount carrier on adding flights to Florida or Arizona.

An informal survey released Wednesday showed nearly 60 percent of about 700 people who responded preferred service to Tampa-St. Petersburg, Orlando or Fort Lauderdale in Florida, while the remainder chose Phoenix.

"We'll meet with them (Allegiant) in February to talk about the possible start of new destinations," airport executive director Mark Hanna said.

Hanna said an average of 76 percent to 85 percent of seats have been filled on the 150-passenger jets since the carrier started Monday and Friday service to Las Vegas in mid-August. The Springfield airport also has United Express service to Chicago and Washington, D.C., and AmericanConnection service to St. Louis resumes Nov. 4.

Allegiant has aggressively marketed its discount service, including a current offer of free flights to Las Vegas for certain vacation packages purchased by the end of the month, said Don Fuener, owner of Planet Travel in Springfield.

"Allegiant is a real success story. Their planes have been crowded," Fuener said, though he noted the discount carrier adds charges such as booking and baggage-check fees to the basic cost of tickets.

"A $69 fare one way can quickly become $100 one way," he said. "Clients are willing to overlook that when they can fly out of Springfield to Las Vegas."

Fuener said Allegiant, like all carriers, also charges higher fares near holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Springfield resident Richard Nykiel, who flies to Las Vegas once a year, took his first flight on Allegiant from Springfield in September, though he has flown Allegiant to Las Vegas from other airports.

"It's a very short, a very good flight. It was nice to be able to fly out of Springfield," Nykiel said, who also described the service as "no frills."

"They have some drawings and some giveaways, but that's about it," he said.

If the early passenger numbers hold up, Hanna said he believes Springfield has a good chance at a southbound destination from Allegiant, whose executives said at the start of service in August it typically takes six months to a year to determine whether a market will support additional flights.

"We'll discuss the cost of doing business in Springfield with them, and how we've worked to keep costs down (for airlines)," Hanna said.

Allegiant flights depart Springfield at 2:05 p.m. Monday and Friday and arrive at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas at 3:40 p.m. Departures from Las Vegas are at 8:05 a.m., with arrival in Springfield at 1:25 p.m. (all local times).