Published: Saturday, May 20, 2006
Spirits soar with Allegiant The inaugural flight took 148 passengers to Florida
Customers preparing for the flight raved about the convenience and price.
By ED RUNYAN
VIENNA A steady rain didn't prevent a large crowd from assembling to witness Allegiant Air's inaugural flight from Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport.
It was the first time a regularly scheduled airliner had departed the airport since 2002, when Northwest provided the service. Vacation Express, a charter service, last provided Florida flights in the summer of 2004.
Despite Friday's rain, the attitude at the terminal was sunny, especially for Steve Bowser, the airport's director of aviation, who has endured several controversies and difficulties in recent years trying to get regularly scheduled passenger service back to the airport.
"It nearly brings tears to my eyes," Bowser said, surveying the crowd, which also included customers preparing for a charter flight to Atlantic City. "It takes perseverance."
In addition to losing Northwest and Vacation Express, Bowser had to deal with problems with another airline, the Pan Am Clipper Connection, that never actually got off the ground because questions about its finances canceled its operations.
The price is right
Celeste Hayes of Youngstown said she was nervous about her first flight out of the airport, but her parents, Louis and Joyce Hayes, also from Youngstown, were just happy with the savings and convenience of their flights.
Louis Hayes said in addition to the savings of buying $59-each-way airline tickets, they also saved about $90 in parking and shuttle fees over the flights out of Pittsburgh and Cleveland they normally take.
Bowser said the airport was offering free parking for an introductory period and then would charge its normal $5-per-day and $25-per-week parking rates.
Tyri Squyres, Allegiant's director of corporate communications, said the flight on the 150-passenger McDonnell Douglas plane had 148 passengers. The company has booked 86 percent of the seats on the remaining flights in May, 60 percent of seats on its flights in June, and 53 percent in July, she said.
The airline is offering service between the local airport and Sanford International Airport on Fridays and Mondays. Flights depart the local airport at 6:20 p.m. and arrive at Sanford at 8:35 p.m. Flights from Sanford return at 5:40 p.m. after departing at 3:25 p.m.
The airline reports that 36 percent of bookings so far have come from Mahoning County residents, 35 percent from Trumbull, 5 percent from Columbiana, 4.5 percent from Portage and 3.5 percent from Ashtabula. Flights have been booked from people living in 20 other Ohio counties.
Couldn't pass it up
Joyce Bowser of Liberty waited for the inaugural flight with her husband, Ottis, daughter, Dawn, and two granddaughters, Marina and Natalie. Bowser said she had been to Vero Beach, Fla., to stay with her sister in January and paid about double her $59 fare flying out of one of the larger airports.
"I probably wouldn't be going this soon again except for the low price," she said. "This is much better than driving to Pittsburgh or Cleveland. I hope it's not just a flash in the pan."
Tom Martin, a sales representative for Rubenstein Associates of Liberty, which is marketing the Allegiant flights, said Pittsburgh International Airport can market itself in the Youngstown-Warren area all it wants to with amenities such as a shopping mall.
"But you don't go to the airport to buy a sports coat. They have a food court, but we have a food court, too. It's called Belmont Avenue," he said.