It appears that Northland travelers soon will have a new low-cost option for flying from Duluth.
Tyri Squyres, a representative of Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air, said Wednesday that she would take part in a Duluth news conference today at which an air service announcement is to be made. Duluth probably stands to become Allegiant's first foray into Minnesota.
Kurt Ebenhoch, a spokesman for Northwest Airlines, said his company has no plans to alter its service to Duluth. Northwest and its affiliates -- Pinnacle and Mesaba airlines -- are the only commercial carriers serving Duluth, offering flights to Detroit and the Twin Cities.
Allegiant Air has built its business by offering direct flights to Las Vegas and, to a lesser extent, Orlando, Fla.
The airline flies non-stop to Las Vegas from 25 cities, including Cedar Rapids and Des Moines, Iowa; Lansing, Mich.; Peoria and Rockford, Ill.; Bismarck, N.D.; Madison and Green Bay, Wis.; and Sioux Falls and Rapid City, S.D.; South Bend, Ind.; Fargo, N.D.; and Toledo, Ohio. It also provides direct flights to Orlando from 15 markets.
"We focus on markets that are currently underserved by carriers," Squyres said. She said her company typically launches service by offering a $69 promotional one-way fare to Las Vegas. The airline usually begins flights within 60 days of announcing that it is entering a new market.
If other Midwest cities are a guide, Allegiant probably will begin by offering Duluth travelers a couple of flights per week to Las Vegas then will consider adjusting its schedule, based on demand. If it is well received, Allegiant could look at adding service to Orlando.
By the end of this year, Allegiant's fleet will consist of 20 jets -- mostly 150-seat MD-80 aircraft.
The low-cost carrier calls itself a "ticketless" airline, offering "open seating" on all flights.
Privately held Allegiant does not publicly disclose its financials, but Squyres said the company is "profitable, unlike most of the industry." The eight-year-old airline's continued growth stands out at a time when many cash-strapped carriers are in retreat.
"In the last year, we've tripled the number of cities we fly to," Squyres said.
As for the prospect of Allegiant entering the Duluth market, Ebenhoch said competition is nothing new for Northwest.
"We compete with a number of carriers in markets we serve," he said. "More than 70 percent of our customers have low-cost options available to them. It's something Northwest has faced for several years.
"That's one of the reasons why it's so critical that we restructure our costs, including labor, to make ourselves more competitive with airlines such as Allegiant Air."
If Allegiant moves aggressively into the Duluth market, Northwest probably will respond.
"When we price our service, we consider all the airlines available to our customers," Ebenhoch said.
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