BLOUNTVILLE - The introductory hype is almost over.
Preparations for Thursday night's much-anticipated launch of Allegiant Air's low-fare service from Tri-Cities Regional Airport to Orlando-Sanford Airport are all but complete, members of the airport's marketing committee were told Tuesday.
"We have a full aircraft on the first (Allegiant) flight. ... We're excited about that," said Melissa Thomas, TCRA's director of marketing and air service development. "At last report, 148 people were booked on the inaugural flight."
TCRA will hold a celebration for the first Allegiant flight at the airport at 6 p.m. Thursday.
TCRA and Allegiant announced the new service in March with an offer of $59 one-way introductory fares when booked before April 14 at www.allegiantair.com.
Since then, both TCRA and Allegiant have initiated a three-month TV, billboard and newspaper ad campaign touting the service. There has even been a co-op TV ad campaign in the Orlando, Fla., area encouraging Floridians to "beat the heat with a mountain retreat" and come to Northeast Tennessee.
"Do we have the TV spot ready (telling Floridians) to get ready for the hurricane (season) alternative?" committee member Dan Mahoney, an airport commissioner from Johnson City, asked Thomas.
TCRA Executive Director Patrick Wilson jokingly responded: "Do you mean get away before you're blown away?"
After the introductory period, Thomas said Allegiant's one-way fares to Orlando should settle into a range between $79 and $139.
"It depends upon the day of the week. ... If it's right during Christmas or Memorial Day weekend, it's probably going to go up a little," she said. "But in looking at all the fares across the board, they will be pretty stable at right about $79."
Allegiant, based in Las Vegas, also offers vacation packages that include round-trip airfare, hotel stays, rental cars and other travel-related services.
"They're not necessarily trying to make the money all off fares," Thomas said of Allegiant.
TCRA has hired its own ticket services and baggage handling team, led by former Delta Air Lines employee Glenn McClure, to oversee the ticket counter and ground handling services for Allegiant.
"They've been through a marathon training session. ... They're off to a good start," Wilson said of the team.
After Allegiant's service kicks off at TCRA, airport officials said Delta will add a second flight to Orlando starting on June 7.
Thomas said TCRA is also trying to establish United Express service to Washington Dulles Airport by talking to United partner Pinnacle Airlines.
"We get vocal regular feedback particularly from our elected officials wanting that Washington link. ... We have to show stronger demand," said Thomas.
She added TCRA is also trying to get Northwest Airlines to upgrade its Detroit and Memphis service from turboprop airplanes to regional jets.
"People like the Northwest service. They don't like the Northwest planes," Mahoney said.
For more about TCRA go to www.triflight.com.