AIRLINE: Allegiant Air
DEPART: Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU)
ARRIVE: St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport (PIE)
CLASS: Single class aircraft
LENGTH: 1.5 hours
Sometimes you just have to get to a destination, and are willing to take a chance on a new airline just to get there. That is the case for my first flight on Allegiant Air.
Needing to book a trip to Tampa from Raleigh at the last minute, I had looked at American and Southwest Airlines for flights. With ticket prices north of $1000, I pondered other options.
I went to an Allegiant ticket counter to seek out details about booking a flight from RDU to PIE. (Note: It is cheaper to book at an airport ticket counter than online on Allegiant) One of the first questions I had asked was if the flight would be on a MD-80 or Airbus A319. I was told that the flights to St. Pete were being flown on A319s.
Don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of the MD-80 and its 2-3 seating, but with Allegiant’s chronic maintenance issues on them I was going to avoid booking my family and I on one as much as possible.
Even booking at the last minute with only a few seats left on the aircraft, I was out less than half what I would have paid on the big airlines for flights on the same day. I elected to prepay for seat assignments and for my two carry on bags I was anticipating taking for three people. After that, I was ready to go for my flight in a few days.
Knowing that Allegiant would charge me $5 for each of my boarding passes if I checked-in at the airport, I checked my party in online and printed boarding passes. Upon printing the passes I realized I never gave the agent my TSA PreCheck number. I went on to Allegiant’s website only to find there was not a way to add my number. I sent a question to Allegiant’s Twitter account asking how can I add my number, only to not receive an answer (more on this later).
On the day of my flight I arrived to an empty check-in counter about two hours before my flight. Other passengers who had already been waiting were already getting annoyed that no one was at the counter to greet them and take their bags.
Eventually, an agent from their independent contractor began assisting passengers. When it was my turn at the counter, he added my TSA number to my reservation. The agent then informed me that he would still charge me to reprint the boarding passes with PreCheck even though I showed I had already printed some from home.
Most people would say just go through regular security, but having a medical device attached to me has always created havoc with security at RDU. Having traveled through this particular airport nearly 50 times, I have witnessed TSA agents sticking entire hands down pants and agents raising their voices to passengers as if they were criminals for not standing still while trying to get out of another passenger’s way. (Don’t forget about the national story about RDU TSA searching a 10-year old girl not too long ago.)
I went on my phone and re-emailed the passes to myself and found a computer at the airport to reprint boarding passes from.
Upon arriving to the gate, I noticed the flight time had been pushed back. There were no agents around to ask questions to, so I took a seat and waited. And waited.
At the time that departure was supposed to occur, an agent walked up and said the flight was delayed due to maintenance in St. Pete-Clearwater. What a shock!
About five minutes after, I received a tweet from Allegiant saying “let us know if you have any questions :)”. They had responded to my question by saying let them know if I have questions!
Finally our flight made it from St. Pete-Clearwater, only to turn out that it was a VERY old MD-80. It was never clarified to me if this was due to an equipment swap or erroneous information by the ticketing agent when I purchased my ticket.
We finally began boarding our plane more than an hour and a half late. The aircraft was roughly 80 degrees when boarding due to the air not being connected to the aircraft. The flight attendants just stood around chatting, which allowed the process to become a free-for-all. Passengers sat in wrong seats, while others left overhead bags half hanging out of bins because they were too large.
The rookie flight attendant (it later became apparent that there was an instructor or trainer working with her) eventually came and started taking bags out of the bins. Anyone who has experience in the industry knows that this is a bad idea in case the flight attendant injures herself lifting the bags, which will likely lead to flight cancellation.
Overall, the seats were comfortable and there was amble legroom thanks to seat back pockets being located near the top of the seat. The seats do not recline so that they airline can save on weight, which is fine for me as I never recline my seat.
We would eventually takeoff roughly two hours late, and in-flight service began. The flight attendant took my drink order and one of the others in my party before taking the credit card to swipe. When she came back we informed her that she had not asked the third person in our party for her drink order and the flight attendant became annoyed and said “I need the card back to charge for her drink.” We paid for the third drink and she continued on without a thank you.
The remainder of the flight was uneventful minus a less than stellar landing at PIE. At least I didn’t have to leave the aircraft on an escape chute though.
Our flight did not use any of the jet bridges at St. Pete-Clearwater, so passengers got to deplane outside on a nice day. Upon walking into the terminal was a scene of chaos thanks to construction and flight delays. On the flight board, seven of the ten inbound Allegiant flights were delayed.
In order to leave the secure area at St. Pete-Clearwater, each passenger must walk into an airlock chamber and wait for the door to close behind them before the front door opens to the baggage claim. A very odd experience for anyone who has not traveled through PIE before.
Overall, the Allegiant experience had a lot to be desired. I was glad that I had landed safely without any maintenance issues on my flight.
Having been in the industry for some time, I knew what I was getting into in terms of the reputation of Allegiant. Even with the lowest of low in expectations, the customer service and efficiency of the operation were the big factors for my negative experience. This was my first flight on Allegiant, and likely to be my last for quite some time.