The East Valley’s growing reliever airport is no longer just the place Midwesterners fly into to escape frigid winters.
Allegiant Air announced Tuesday it is adding nonstop flights to Hawaii in February, giving the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport its most exotic destination to date.
The low-cost carrier will start service three times a week to Honolulu on Feb. 8 with roundtrip tickets starting at $400, about half the cost of flights to Hawaii from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
Mesa Mayor Scott Smith said the pricing will help the airport continue to grow rapidly because its low-cost carriers are attracting passengers who wouldn’t have taken flights from Sky Harbor.
But the airport has more going for it than cheap fares, he said.
Gateway’s two airlines — and soon to be a third — have been attracting passengers from as far as Tucson, along with the northern and southern parts of Arizona.
“Our market is not just the East Valley, as some people may think,” Smith said. “We have a lot of people who drive right past Sky Harbor because of the options that are offered.”
Allegiant’s new service also brings an upgrade to its fleet. Rather than flying MD-80 aircraft, Allegiant is using new Boeing 575 jets that have a greater range.
The $400 fares are an introductory rate. But Allegiant communications director Brian Davis said they are close to some fares normally available, and that the airline often prices flights at about half its competitors’ prices.
The airline’s business model is unlike carriers that focus on business travelers with corporate expense accounts, he said.
“Traveling for vacation, you’re spending your own money and so you’re watching it a little bit more closely,” Davis said.
Allegiant is also a travel company and offers vacation packages that can include rental cars and discounts at 47 Hawaiian hotels in its network.
The airline’s website on Tuesday was accepting reservations for flights to Hawaii. Flights are scheduled on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The airline will consider additional service if demand warrants it.
“We’re eager to put the flights and the planes where the customer wants us to grow,” Davis said.
Allegiant is buying six new 757s as it has started offering service to Hawaii from several other Western cities.
The Hawaii flights come in the same month that Frontier announced it will begin daily nonstop service to Denver International Airport, giving passengers the option of connecting to 35 cities from Colorado.
That will boost the total number of destinations available through Gateway to about 115, up from the roughly 35 cities served today by Allegiant and Spirit airlines.
The airport’s growth has stunned even its most ardent supporters.
Gateway’s passenger terminal sat empty for years and was the source of ridicule, Smith noted.
“The visionaries took a beating for building this terminal that no passengers ever, ever would go through,” he said.
But once Allegiant started with a few flights in late 2007, demand took off.
Vice Mayor Scott Somers said the airline was surprised that its mostly cool-weather destinations had more visitors from Arizona than expected.
“Their thought originally was, ‘We’re going to be bringing people in from the cold weather to the warm weather,’” Somers said. “Little did they realize that they would get just as many people interested in traveling out.”
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