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Why it’s Myrtle Beach, not Las Vegas from HIA

Harrisburg International Airport will have direct flights to a new, seasonal leisure destination starting soon, as Allegiant Air expands services across its network.

Officials with HIA announced last week that the growing Las Vegas-based budget carrier will offer twice-weekly flights to Myrtle Beach, S.C., from May 19 through Sept. 18.

Myrtle Beach, known for its sandy coastline and world-class golf courses, will be Allegiant’s fourth nonstop destination from HIA, joining Orlando (Sanford), St. Petersburg and Punta Gorda, all in Florida.

Harrisburg International Airport Executive Director Tim Edwards said nearly 300,000 passengers have flown on Allegiant services from the airport since 2012, at an average one-way price of $66 per ticket. One-way fares on the Myrtle Beach route are as low as $45, the company said.

Choosing routes

How are new routes and cities chosen, especially for a growing carrier like Allegiant?

“We will typically evaluate new routes based on input from the airport, historical data regarding demand and the competitive environment. Routes also have to fit into our overall network philosophy,” Allegiant’s media relations team said in an email.

“Passenger surveys rarely are used, as they are not often reliable — where people say they want to go does not always equate to where they will buy a ticket to go,” Allegiant added.

The airline’s business strategy focuses on linking “travelers in small cities to world-class leisure destinations,” which has been reflected in its destination choices.

In November, when Allegiant announced that HIA-Punta Gorda service would start Feb. 18, the news came as part of a larger expansion that included the addition of nonstop service on nine new routes and service to two new cities: Dayton, Ohio, and Flint, Mich., which the airline began linking with Florida.

Likewise, Allegiant’s March 8 announcement of Myrtle Beach flights coincided with the nationwide addition of 22 new routes and three new cities: Albuquerque, Evansville, Ind., and Santa Rosa, Calif., bringing the carrier’s total number of destinations to 114.

Vegas, baby?

With Allegiant based in one of America’s gaming and entertainment capitals, can local travelers expect to see Las Vegas on the departure board at HIA anytime soon?

Probably not.

An airline spokeswoman explained that Allegiant finds it more economical to keep flights within the same general region, as opposed to longer cross-country flights.

Under that rationale, trips from Harrisburg to Las Vegas would not currently be practical using available planes, including Allegiant’s medium-range MD-80 series aircraft.

Allegiant’s Florida destinations are roughly 1,000 miles from HIA. Las Vegas is more than double that distance.

HIA spokesman Scott Miller elaborated on that theme last week, explaining how one plane can make four trips per day on East Coast routes: Orlando to Harrisburg, Harrisburg to Myrtle Beach, Myrtle Beach to Harrisburg and finally, Harrisburg back to Orlando.

In the same time, that same plane could complete only two round trips between Harrisburg and Las Vegas, carrying fewer passengers overall.

“They have to make money on these low fares,” Miller said, noting they require high passenger volume.

For that reason, HIA’s Edwards said airport officials hope midstate passengers will take advantage of the new service, giving Allegiant more reasons to do business in Harrisburg.

“Use it or lose it,” he said.

“New airline service is very difficult to secure, especially for the smaller markets, like Harrisburg,” Edwards said.

In addition to Allegiant, HIA is served by Air Canada, American, Delta and United, with nonstop service to Philadelphia, Washington (Dulles), Boston, Toronto, Detroit, Chicago, Charlotte and Atlanta.

Roger DuPuis
Roger DuPuis covers Cumberland County, health care, transportation, distribution, energy and environment. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at rdupuis@cpbj.com.

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