Allegiant grows fast in small cities, but will…

EVANSVILLE, Ind. Bob Whitmer was ecstatichis hard work had paid off.

It was 2011, and he had just shepherded through a runway extension and other improvementsat Owensboros airport in western Kentucky.

Representatives of the low-cost carrier Allegiant were flying into town to tell Whitmer, the airport director, that Owensboro had landed flights to Las Vegas.

This is a dream come true for Owensboro! he gushed in a news release touting the services launch alongside existing flights to the Orlando area.

But six months later,amid prohibitivefuel costs, that dream ended when Allegiant announced it was pulling its Las Vegas route.

As Evansville celebrates the arrival and rapid expansion of Allegiant service, words of caution abound that the routes may be short-lived. Perhaps no entity is more honest about that than Allegiant itself. The airlines rallying cry to the communities it serves: Use it or lose it.

Allegiants pretty agile, said Kristen Schilling-Gonzales, the airlines director of planning. Were monitoring every flight. Were looking at every route we operate on a monthly basis, quarterly basis, even more than that.

Allegiant is unique in that even seemingly successful service sometimes finds itself on the chopping block.

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That’s because Allegiant’s low-cost fares are dependent upon its ability to up-sell customers on everything from seat selection to hotel rooms. Jets full of frugal passengers who paid for their flights, but nothing else, end up costing the airline money.

In regulatory filings, the company said it averages expenses ofabout $100 per passenger per flight, or $200 round trip. As an airline that routinely offers round trip fares as low as $100 on flights, Allegiant needs to sell customers rental cars and tickets to events to make those routes profitable.

If you took just our airfares alone, that doesnt cover our costs. Thats honest, Schilling-Gonzales said. So we do offer ancillary products as a way to let customers customize their vacations.

Et tu, Allegiant?

Few airlines tweak their route maps as frequently as Allegiant. While legacy carriers, such as American, Delta and United, are more apt to play the long game when it comes to allowing new routes to perform, Allegiant opts for a different approach.

Take Owensboro. At one point, Allegiant flew four round-trip flights per week between Orlando and Owensboro, as well as the twice-weekly Las Vegas flight.

“We were very elated that we had non-stop flights to two of the most popular vacation destinations in the United States,” Whitmer said. “It was a very attractive offering we had at our airport. We were extremely pleased.”

Today, Allegiant only flies twice-weekly Orlando flights.

While Allegiant still serves Owensboro, there are plenty of other airports including Casper, Wyo.; Akron-Canton, Ohio; and Youngstown-Warren, Ohio, where Allegiant has departed completely.

When Allegiant left Casper, “they never issued a news release,” Airport Director GlennJanuska said. “They took the service out of the schedule, and I think the only way people would have known that the service was going to be discontinued was they went to book a flight and noticed, ‘Hey, wait a minute. Casper isn’t there anymore.'”

A similar situation happened at Akron-Canton, where Allegiant also abruptly pulled its flights.

Marketing Director Lisa Dalpiazsaid Akron-Canton was “disappointed in Allegiant’s decision.”

At Youngstown-Warren, which lies between Cleveland and Pittsburgh, Allegiant in its trademark honesty “told us, straight up, we can make more money at the larger airports,” Aviation DirectorDan Dickten said.

IN PICTURES: 30 cool aviation photos(story continues below)

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