America West Airlines will take off for Central America for the first time in its history.
The Tempe-based company said Wednesday it will begin offering daily nonstop service to San Jose, Costa Rica, beginning Dec. 1, the latest destination for a carrier that is expanding its wings internationally and in the United States.
“The company is pretty comfortable growing regardless of where it might be,” said Dion Flannery, America West vice president of scheduling, planning and Internet distribution. “That is to say, we're not intimidated by borders.”
The company says Costa Rica is stable, has a growing economy and features high-end, secluded resorts popular with eco-tourists interested in white-water rafting, surfing and fishing. The company says the country has become popular with people who enjoy Hawaii and Mexican beaches.
America West will be the only airline to serve Costa Rica nonstop from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. It also hopes to tap into the West Coast, particularly Los Angeles, where only Lacsa Airlines, a Central American registered carrier, flies nonstop to San Jose.
“The local demand is untapped and the large base of travelers that fly out of the L.A. basin are going to have a great way to do it on a one-stop, tight connect through Phoenix,” Flannery said.
Mike Boyd of the Boyd Group, a Colorado-based airline consulting group, said America West's decision to begin the service makes sense.
“You'd be surprised about how much money you can make in Central America, Latin America and the Caribbean,” he said. “U.S. Airways, for example, has basically reorganized itself out of bankruptcy and one of their biggest programs to do that was to increase service to Caribbean destinations very similar to Costa Rica. It makes a lot of sense. Latin America is very underserved from the western United States. If you're in Dallas, you can go everywhere because of American Airlines, but go west of Dallas or Houston, and there isn't anything going there until you get to L.A.”
Fares for the five-hour-15-minute flight from the Valley will start at $490 round trip with a 14-day advance purchase. |America West will utilize its Airbus A319 aircraft that seats 12 in first class and 112 in the main cabin.
San Jose is America West’s fifth new destination this year. The airline added service in Memphis, Tenn., in April and Cancun, Mexico, in June. The airline will add service to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and Monterrey, Mexico, in October.
The carrier also announced earlier this month that it would take on the the nation's six largest airlines by offering what it says will be inexpensive nonstop fares for transcontinental flights between New York, Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Flannery said adding the Costa Rican service will be be similar to the company's success in serving beach resort destinations in Mexico.
“This is much in keeping with that, albeit a little bit longer into a foreign country other than Mexico,” he said. “It shows a lot of the similarities. It has a great affinity on the West Coast which we serve extraordinarily well through our Phoenix hub. No U.S. carriers fly direct from L.A. or Phoenix to San Jose.
You can transit to Costa Rica through Atlanta if you want to go that far out of the way, or Dallas or Houston are your options on American or Continental. You could go as far as Miami as well.”
America West passengers will benefit from shorter travel times from the West Coast and Phoenix to San Jose, he said.
The company has been able to able to grow service by taking delivery of regional jets that have either been used on new routes or flown on existing ones to free up mainline jets for longer service. Jets also are being flown longer hours.
“We're kind of taking bits and pieces of our schedule to add up to more than the sum of their parts and create more flying out of it that way, effectively using our assets better,” Flannery said, adding the company is looking for routes that it thinks are overpriced or underserved by airlines that have higher costs.
Analysts were surprised during the second quarter when the company made money for the first time in more than two years. “We are very optimistic and look to the future with the eye for growth and for opportunity as opposed to how much cash do we have on hand or something like that, what some airlines are doing these days,” Flannery said. “We're really focused on how do we grow the franchise and . . . where do our growth opportunities lie.”