January 20, 2015

Giving Pease A Chance: An Allegiant Air Flight Review

As a lifelong aviation enthusiast and resident of Maine, I am painfully aware of the lack of direct route flights to many places throughout the United States. While the old New England colloquialism “You can’t get there from here” isn’t necessarily true with connecting flights, those connections certainly are daunting to many.

Pease International Tradeport control tower and passenger terminal.

The former control tower and passenger terminal at Pease International Tradeport.

Enter Pease International Tradeport (PSM) and low cost carrier Allegiant Air. Pease International, located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, is the former Pease Air Force Base. It saw scheduled service from Allegiant previously, but the carrier pulled out when low cost carrier SkyBus came into the market as well. After SkyBus went out of business, one of the iterations of Pan Am was based here. Now after much marketing of the Tradeport and its amenities, Allegiant is once again providing non-stop service to Orlando-Sanford International (SFB) in Sanford, Florida.

For those unfamiliar with Allegiant, they are an ultra low cost carrier owned by Allegiant Travel Company based in Las Vegas, Nevada. Allegiant has several aspects contributing to their low fare model. They are typically found operating from lesser served market areas, such as Pease, to focus cities like Orlando-Sanford International and Las Vegas. For the airline, these markets often offer little to no competition, andoffer low operating costs since the airports usually provideconcessions on fees and fund  marketing efforts to attract fliers. . Also, fixed base operators, like Port City Air in the case of Pease, provide contract ground handling, gate agents, and fueling services. For the consumer, these airports offer a more laid back style of travel due to there being less of a crowd, and in the case of Sanford, being close enough to the vacation attractions of Orlando. This appeals to those who don’t wish to deal with long screening lines, navigating new airports during connections, and complicated ground travel found in larger airports.

Another aspect contributing to Allegiant’s low cost model is the direct purchase of used aircraft.   Their fleet is made up of 53 McDonnell- Douglas MD-80 series aircraft, 10 Airbus A320 family aircraft (including some A319s), and six Boeing 757s.  By purchasing this equipment outright, the airline is able to amass a parts inventory and maintain the aircraft under a fleet maintenance program that sees older aircraft such as the MD-80 into the distant future.

Allegiant Air Airbus A319. (Image by Allegiant Air)

Allegiant has recently begun adding Airbus A320 family jets to their fleet. (Image by Allegiant Air)

Unfortunately for us MD-80 series fans, Allegiant has said they do not plan to expand the fleet any further and see the A320 family of aircraft as the long term replacement for the McDonnell Douglas product. Allegiant plans to buy more Airbus aircraft when the right opportunity presents itself. Some flight crews are undergoing transitions to the Airbus, while others are being hired to the company with previous Airbus experience.

The Boeing 757-200 aircraft, originally purchased for the longer haul routes to Honolulu, were recently designated to be phased out in the near future. The fleet took a significant value write down based largely in part on the declining use of 757-200 passenger aircraft in the market. Allegiant has not announced a replacement selection as of this time.

Finally there are some customer service related aspects to the low cost model which are likely more noticeable to the customer. This starts at check in. If you check in online at home you can print your own boarding pass, or you can also you the free mobile app for the electronic boarding pass. If you choose to have your pass printed at check-in there is a $5 fee.

Baggage fees are handled in two manners. If you purchase your checked bagged fee with your initial booking it will cost you around $35 per bag depending on the airport. You are allowed one personal item that fits under the seat. Carry-on bags are subject to the same fee as a checked bag initially. If you choose to pay your bag fees at the day of departure, the carry on fee goes up to $50 and the checked bag fee goes up to $100.

As far as on board the aircraft is concerned there are the final noticeable aspects of flying Allegiant. On most traditional domestic flights, a beverage is provided for free a couple of times during the flight. On Allegiant all of the beverages are for purchase, ranging from $2 for a soft drink to $7 for various alcoholic drinks. Also there are individual snacks and snack boxes for sale as well.  These snack boxes vary in price based on contents and cost between $4 and $5.

Allegiant offered us a flight to review their product currently offered out of Portsmouth, NH to Orlando-Sanford, FL.  While Allegiant provided the cost of the flight down, we covered the cost of the return trip, hotel, and all other related expenses.

I chose a Friday departure date and arrived at the airport two hours early with the idea of getting through security before meeting with Port City Air officials for a ramp tour. As it turns out the small airport environment worked to my advantage as I checked my bag and went through TSA all within ten minutes time.

We were scheduled for a 10:44 AM departure time and the MD-83 aircraft arrived just prior to 10:30 promptly deplaning the inbound passengers. A standard zone boarding process ensued and all passengers were quickly boarded. After pushback the aircraft was given a two coat deicing treatment and then promptly taxied to position for takeoff.

Low fares mean high load factors.

Low fares mean high load factors.

As we got to the departure end of the runway I was excited for the sounds and experience of the famous “Mad Dog” takeoff the MD-80 series is so famous for. I heard the stages of the engine wind up and we hurtled down the runway several hundred feet, only to hear the engines cut and feel the braking heavily, but smoothly applied. We turned off onto a taxiway and the Captain explained they received a poor engine reading possibly caused by deicing, and that they were going to try an engine runup.

The runup did not remedy the problem and we returned to the gate, initially allowed to remain on the plane, but ultimately deplaning to wait in the terminal once again. At this point it was a little past noon and the crowd quickly overwhelmed the small concession stand in the lower level of the terminal with lunch orders. Sadly they soon ran out of food, but the Pease International Airport manager Bill Hopper soon arrived with his staff to hand out snacks to everyone.

The gate staff was polite and professional, but there was not much information forthcoming during this time period, outside of the text message updates pushing the delay out a half hour each time. Just as tensions were starting to rise, we were told we would reboard and the room cheered. Yes they really did, it caught me off guard honestly. The cheering was all for naught though, as a text from Allegiant announcing the cancellation of the flight was received just as the last passengers were boarding the plane. Due to the procedures for flying with the engine reading issue we could not continue after all. This ended our wait at about 4:30PM.

Passengers were advised in the terminal that if they lived over fifty miles away they would be accommodated for the night, otherwise passengers were to be back for a 2:49 PM departure the next day.

At small airports like PSM, everyone chips in. Airport staff and even police helped hand out snacks to passengers waiting out the flight delay.

At small airports like PSM, everyone chips in. Airport staff and even police helped hand out snacks to passengers waiting out the flight delay.

Fortunately for me I only live about thirty miles from Pease International, so I was able to spend a night at home and get my travel plans for the return trip rearranged. The next day I arrived at the airport about an hour early and was once again able to breeze through the baggage and security process.

The aircraft arrived and boarding commenced swiftly in the same zone format. While the rest of the flight was boarding I was able to take a look at the aircraft. The previous day’s aircraft had been showing its age. The seating was worn and the cushioning broken down, wall panels were discolored, and overhead panels all showed tool marks from years of servicing. Today’s aircraft, another MD-83, was a big departure from the previous day’s unit. I noted that the interior had the same all economy two by three layout, with bulkhead and emergency row seats being sold as “Legroom +”.  The panels and bins were bright and clean, the carpet fresh, and upholstery was in good condition.

Flight attendants were able to seat everyone quickly, but since they started boarding almost immediately on arrival with an empty plane, departure was held up a bit as the cockpit was still doing some paperwork for departure. Just prior to the arrival of the aircraft, gate agents had begun to hand out $100 vouchers from Allegiant as compensation for the rescheduled flight. Boarding commenced before this was complete, so the flight attendants used the time before push back to continue handing out the vouchers. Some passengers became upset because they thought the handing out of vouchers was holding up the departure.

Despite this, we departed at the scheduled time and were soon hurtling down the runway, this time the Mad Dog’s engines were fully cranked up and we rocketed into the crisp afternoon air and nosing over the coast toward Florida. And the passengers cheered. Again, this caught me off guard.

I had always heard horror stories about Allegiant’s 30” pitch and fixed seatbacks. I am six feet tall and I was quite comfortable the whole flight. I could put my first between the seatback and my knees, this room likely coming from a fixed card pocket in the top of the seat instead of one below the tray table.

The flight quickly got to work offering a free soft drink service, which is normally a for purchase item but was offered free as another courtesy due to the reschedule.  One down side of quick turn due to an empty plane in winter is a cold plane. It didn’t bother most of the hearty northeasterners, but the Floridian flight crew was bundled right up! Luckily it warmed up half way through the flight.

As with most domestic economy products, there were no IFE units, charging stations, or wi-fi, but this was expected. The entire flight was about three hours, so most parents entertained children and themselves with a laptop or tablet. Part of my entertainment was enjoying a flight on an aircraft that will one day be gone. As I had referenced, this MD-83 was in decent shape, but small things still showed its age. The rear lavatory sink was out of service, filled with towelettes instead. The toilet unit itself was showing considerable bumps and paint scrapes, but functioned just fine. At 37,000 feet I wasn’t going to complain. A true sign of a different time, there were slots for shaving razor disposal and an ashtray in the lavatory. Using either now for the intended purpose would land you in trouble.

One of the most noticeable things about being in the rear of a MD-80 series aircraft is the noise. As an enthusiast, it is music to my ears, but a traditional traveler may want to avoid rows 34-37 as they would have an obstructed view due to engine nacelles in addition to enduring a lot of noise. The final diamond in the rough are the rear air stairs. Being in the generation of jets that came equipped to operate in airports without jetways, the fold down stairs are an avgeeks dream and I wish we had gotten to use them.

Soon enough we started our descent into Orlando-Sanford and entered into a sporty line up for the runway, which allowed for a great view of the area lit up at night. Touchdown was very smooth and once again, the passengers cheered upon having made it. You guessed it, it caught me by surprise again. I had underestimated how much the delay had made people anxious about arriving.

We had a quick taxi to the gate and as the engines came down we were advised that there would be one more delay before we could deplane. It seems the leveler for the jetway was acting up, but it was soon remedied and we were off and into the terminal.

I quickly saw why a family with young children or someone who is not comfortable navigating airports would like Orlando-Sanford. The gates were not crowded despite some flights processing to go out, the TSA lines appeared short, and the layout was pretty straightforward.

I made my way to the baggage claim on the lower level, next to the check in area , and was pleased to find my bag had already arrived. Access to ground transportation was very easy. For those needing a ride, there was a variety of shuttles and taxis available right outside the door. If you were waiting for a ride like I was, there was plenty of room to wait and be easily picked up without fear of being run down.

This was my first time on Allegiant, and as they say, the devil is in the detailsas these small venues really allow the small things to stand out. It was easy to see there are some downsides from operating at remote locations. I felt for the revenue passengers during the delay, and I feel that the venue should have allowed for a little better communication of the problem, which likely would’ve helped the overall mood.

I found the facilities at both Pease and Orlando-Sanford offered ease of access and use as a passenger. I was impressed with the lengths Pease Tradeport officials went to assist with the delay, which is an advantage of being in smaller venue.

While the conditions on the first aircraft with its older interior were not ideal, I found that the second aircraft was very acceptable, especially considering its time in service. I will admit I feel that Allegiant has an unfair reputation for uncomfortable seats,  as mine was perfectly fine for a short haul domestic route and I was at no time uncomfortable. The cabin crew, flight deck crew, and gate agents were all warm, professional, and efficient and did their best to help passengers relax and enjoy their experience.

At its very foundation, Allegiant is not there as a commuter or luxury airline. They admittedly cater to the package vacation market and strive to make these packages affordable.  The airline side of the operation, delay aside, struck me as an average domestic flight experience. Like most businesses though, service is part of the product that is being sold. Given the operating schedule, a cancellation greatly affects the way service is perceived. I think that the long delay overshadowed some aspects of the experience for many passengers on this trip. Overall, I would give Allegiant another shot before passing judgement, especially if I were flying with my child.

Michael Lothrop is a lifelong aviation enthusiast and writer from Maine. Mike grew up around the airport and has a professional background in public safety and business. Follow him on Twitter.

About the Author

Michael Lothrop
Michael Lothrop is a lifelong aviation enthusiast and writer originally from Maine. Mike grew up around aviation and is currently the director of operations and safety for an aviation related company.



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  • frostkat

    Thanks for the info.

  • Jim Pease

    I’d like to see Pease succeed for obvious reasons!!!

  • Dean Lessard

    I just booked my first flight with Allegiant Airlines out of Portsmouth International Airport and it will be the last. It was the worst booking/reservation experience I have ever had. Allegiant’s customer service is terrible. It may seem like a good value but in the end it’s not.

  • David Gillespie

    Any idea on when Pease will have flights to FLL again?