***Update 05/04/2020 @17:04 UTC- Inserted statement from Allegiant Air***
Allegiant Air and Sun Country Airlines received rare minimum service exemptions late last month after receiving federal aid from the US government. Both ultra-low-cost carriers operate under different parameters to full-service airlines.
Reduced service obligations for Allegiant Air
Reported at Routesonline, the US Department of Transportation has granted Allegiant service exemptions at ten airports in the United States. At all of these destinations, the carrier must only provide one flight per week. Through June 30th, the waiver is in effect for these two airports:
- Bellingham, Washington (BLI)
- McAllen-Mission, Texas (MFE)
For the other eight airports, the waiver runs through September 30th:
- Dayton, Ohio (DAY)
- Grand Forks, North Dakota (GFK)
- Moline-Quad Cities, Illinois (MLI)
- Ogdensburg, New York (OGS)
- Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina (RDU)
- Rochester, New York (ROC)
- St. Cloud, Minnesota (STC)
- Tucson, Arizona (TUS)
In the airline’s application, the carrier requested waivers for 19 cities. However, the DOT denied the other nine. In one bright spot, Allegiant can and will still end service to San Juan, Puerto Rico. Before the current crisis, the airline had already announced its intentions to end service to San Juan.
Allegiant Air serves small- and medium-sized cities in the United States, connecting them to leisure destinations. However, with leisure travel at its lowest levels in recent memory, the airline has struggled to fill its planes. In addition, some of these waivers are in place through the end of the summer season, indicating that Allegiant is not expecting domestic tourists to travel in the same numbers as they did last year anytime soon.
Allegiant Air offered Simple Flying the following statement:
We thank the Department of Transportation for their thorough, thoughtful review and their conclusions, affording us key relief that balances the unique elements of our business model with the requirements of the CARES Act. We appreciate their understanding that seasonality and flexibility are key elements of our operation, and our ability to accommodate passengers in smaller, underserved cities. We share the same goal – making Allegiant service as accessible as possible and ensuring continued air service to these airports over the long-term. The CARES Act payroll support will go a long way to help, as our industry struggles with the devastating impact of COVID-19 on demand for travel.
Reduced service obligations for Sun Country Airlines
When it comes to minimum air service, Sun Country Airlines took home the big prize per the DOT’s ruling. The Minnesota-based carrier received waivers to suspend operations at 22 airports through June 21st:
- Boston, Massachusetts (BOS)
- Providence, Rhode Island (PVD)
- Chicago, Illinois (ORD)
- Dallas/Ft. Worth, Texas (DFW)
- Denver, Colorado (DEN)
- Honolulu, Hawaii (HNL)
- Los Angeles, California (LAX)
- Nashville, Tennessee (BNA)
- Newark, New Jersey (EWR)
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (PHL)
- Portland, Oregon (PDX)
- San Diego, California (SAN)
- San Francisco, California (SFO)
- Seattle, Washington (SEA)
- St. Louis, Missouri (STL)
- Baltimore, Maryland (BWI)
- Anchorage, Alaska (ANC)
- Austin, Texas (AUS)
- Maidson, Wisconsin (MSN)
- Sacramento, California (SMF)
- San Antonio, Texas (SAT)
- San Juan, Puerto Rico (SJU)
In granting this request, the DOT takes into account that many of these cities are hubs or focus cities for other carriers. This means that those airports will still see extensive service across the board. Thus, exempting Sun Country from service through June at these airports would not negatively impact passengers seeking to fly to those areas.
Through September 30th, however, Sun Country Airlines has seen its burden reduced to once-weekly flights to the following airports:
- Las Vegas, Nevada (LAS)
- Orlando, Florida (MCO)
- Phoenix, Arizona (PHX)
Low-cost carriers win out on service exemptions
Most major US airlines have sought exemptions. However, few have been successful. Airlines have to follow guidelines for minimum service after receiving federal funding in order to guarantee that few– if any– communities lose out on air service, and passengers who do need to fly can still fly.
Both Allegiant and Sun Country, however, have very small market shares in the US and operate on a low-cost model. Due to their more modest presence in the US domestic market, there are fewer passengers who would be inconvenienced by fewer flights per week to destinations. Larger low-cost carriers like Frontier and Spirit were denied waivers.
Do you think the DOT made the right decisions? Let us know in the comments!