BLOUNTVILLE - Imagine flying on a trip to Disney World's Magic Kingdom and paying seemingly magical introductory airfares as low as $59 each way.
That's what Allegiant Air will be offering as the low-fare airline announced Wednesday that it will begin jet service from Tri-Cities Regional Airport to Orlando Sanford International Airport on May 17.
TCRA officials are hoping Allegiant's announcement will fire up leisure travelers.
"We know the community will respond enthusiastically to Allegiant's low fares and quality customer service," Airport Commission Chairman John Abe Teague said during a news conference to welcome Allegiant.
The new Allegiant flights will operate twice weekly with service Thursday and Sunday. Flights will depart TCRA at 7:45 p.m. arriving in Orlando at 9:40 p.m. Flights leaving Orlando will depart at 5:20 p.m. arriving at TCRA at 7:10 p.m.
Allegiant's $59 fare is not available on all flights and must be purchased before April 14 for travel through Nov. 17. That fare is non-refundable and does not include the passenger facility charge, segment tax or Sept. 11 security fee of up to $10.40 per segment, according to Allegiant.
After the introductory period, Allegiant says regular fares on the Orlando route start as low as $89 one way.
Reservations can be made through the company's Web site at www.allegiantair.com, the airline's reservations center at (702) 505-8888 or through travel agents. Allegiant Air is also linked from TCRA's Web site at www.triflight.com.
Allegiant's arrival at TCRA is the first time the airport has successfully landed new flight service since Delta Connection decided to offer TCRA-to-Orlando service in December 2004.
Delta's average round-trip leisure fare from TCRA to Orlando last year was $270, according to a February TCRA memo.
"What we will see is more of an impact on fares to Orlando since that is the only destination (affected by Allegiant's arrival)," said Melissa Thomas, TCRA's director of marketing and air service development. "Typically in other markets, Delta has not actively tried to compete at the same fare ... (but) I think the stimulation between the number of passengers going from Tri-Cities to the Florida area will expand tremendously."
Allegiant's vacations division also offers trip packages with more than 20 of Orlando's hotels and three in Daytona Beach. Initial vacation packages from TCRA will include round-trip airfare and a three-night hotel stay for $184 per person based on double occupancy, according to Allegiant.
Last month, TCRA commissioners approved a $250,000 incentive package to include the airport providing ticket counter and ground handling services for Allegiant's local operations.
"In the current airline industry environment, airlines are looking for every opportunity to cut costs and reduce the risks of entering a new market," a TCRA memo said. "Airports the size of (TCRA) are having to change their traditional business models in order to be more competitive for new air service."
Allegiant, founded in 1997, is based in Las Vegas. The company says its business strategy is focused on linking travelers in small cities to leisure destinations such as Las Vegas, Orlando and Tampa/St. Petersburg.
Allegiant's 150-seat planes flying to Orlando should be more than 80 percent full, said Eric Woodson, the airline's director of marketing and sales.
"We find that usually for Orlando, 80 to 85 percent of the market is inbound to the destination," Woodson said. "We get a lot of families and retired people. ... (The seats on the planes) are all leather. It's a very comfortable ride."