Sun-starved, shivering Vermonters will again be able to fly nonstop to Florida from Burlington International Airport starting February 19. That's when Allegiant Air plans to inaugurate twice-a-week service (Wednesday and Saturday) between BTV and Orlando's Sanford International Airport.
Yellow, orange and blue balloons festooned the airport mezzanine on Tuesday as Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger announced the arrival of Allegiant. The Las Vegas-based carrier, which bills itself as a low-cost alternative for leisure fliers, is offering introductory fares from Burlington to Orlando for as little as $67 each way.
Weinberger and BTV director Gene Richards both described the return of nonstop Florida flights as a major achievement for the financially challenged airport.
The mayor noted that Florida has been the third-most-popular destination for travelers from BTV, following New York City and Washington, D.C. "Not having nonstop service to Florida was a true gap," Weinberger said. JetBlue ended its daily flights from BTV to Orlando a year ago.
"Allegiant will provide BTV travelers with a level of convenience and ease that they have been seeking, at a price that is friendly to any budget," Richards declared.
But how low-cost is Allegiant, really?
A reservation made today for a flight leaving Burlington on February 19 and returning from Orlando one week later does yield the advertised base fare of $134.69. Taxes and fees add $30.81 to the cost, however.
Want to select your seats? That'll be $20 more.
Bringing a carry-on bag with you? That's another $36 -- if you pay in advance online. The carry-on will cost $50 if you haven't booked the bag before coming to the airport.
Got another bag to check? $50, please.
So, with your bags and that aisle seat, the actual cost of that Burlington-Orlando round trip tops out at more than $270. And that's when you pay with a debit card; pay on credit and the total rises even more.
Allegiant representative Micah Lillard (shown speaking) explained the added charges by commenting at the press event that "travelers can choose to tailor their travel experience with us."
Asked how many jobs Allegiant will create at BTV and how their wages will compare to industry norms, Lillard said he did not have those figures available.
Allegiant will continue to operate flights to Orlando from Plattsburgh International Airport, Lillard added. The airline, which specializes in flying from smaller cities to vacation destinations, also serves Las Vegas and three other Florida cities from Plattsburgh, which has been competing aggressively with BTV in recent years to attract Canadian fliers. Lillard said Allegiant will gauge the success of the Burlington-Orlando service before inaugurating service to any other destination from BTV.
The Orlando route itself could prove to be seasonal. Allegiant is committing for now to flying from BTV through April 29. "We'll take a look at how the numbers are doing" in deciding whether to extend the service beyond then, Lillard said.
The airline will be using single-aisle MD-80 aircraft with seating for 166 passengers on its flights between Burlington and Orlando.