Monday, October 17, 2011

Betting on Vegas

By Steve Vied, Messenger-Inquirer
Published: Saturday, October 15, 2011 12:36 AM CDT

A few seconds after 12:26 p.m. Friday, a new chapter in Owensboro aviation opened when an Allegiant Air MD-80 jet lifted off the runway at Owensboro-Daviess County Regional Airport for the carrier’s inaugural Owensboro-to-Las Vegas flight.

The big airliner with a seating capacity of 150 passengers was “95 percent” or more full, according to Allegiant station agent Michelle Mattingly. On the plane were Owensboro Mayor Ron Payne, Daviess County Judge-Executive Al Mattingly, airport board member Joe Lowe and their spouses. Bob Whitmer, airport manager, also made the trip, boarding after handing out Vegas T-shirts to all the passengers.

The passenger list included a group of four people from Indianapolis, who drove to Owensboro from central Indiana Friday morning to take advantage of the low Allegiant ticket prices. Paul Hilton said the drive was well worth it because each of the four paid about $250 including fees for round trip tickets, saving them hundreds of dollars, based on other Las Vegas flights they considered.

“I’ve got to go for work, so a group of us decided to go,” Hilton said. “We’re big Indy car fans and there’s a race out there this weekend.”

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Hilton said he and his friends will be interested in flying out of Owensboro again for Las Vegas trips.

“I’d say if our schedules line up, it’s definitely doable,” he said.

Boarding for the flight began at 11:15 a.m. under sunny, clear skies and went smoothly as passengers walked a short distance from the terminal to the plane. At the top of the portable stairs leading to the plane’s door, Payne turned, smiled and pointed toward the terminal.

A few minutes later, not long after a Las Vegas showgirl and an Elvis impersonator were the last passengers to board, the plane taxied to the south end of the 8,000-foot runway, pivoted and accelerated toward the north end, lifting off with about a third of the runway remaining. It immediately banked to the left and headed west.

Mattingly said the nonstop flight went off without a hitch. “Everything went great,” he said. “It was a very happy crowd.”

The return flight is expected to touch down at 11:40 a.m. Monday, Mattingly said.

The Las Vegas flights will be on Mondays and Fridays, departing from Owensboro at 12:20 p.m. with arrival in Las Vegas at 2:10 p.m. local time.

Las Vegas-based Allegiant already flies nonstop between Owensboro and Orlando, Fla., on Sundays and Thursdays. The success of those flights, most of which are full or nearly so, was a primary factor in the company’s decision to add another route, a company spokesperson said in August when the Las Vegas flights were announced.

Dr. Andrew Ward, an airport board member, watched the Allegiant Air jet board passengers and take off Friday and called it a special day for the airport and the community.

“It’s wonderful,” he said. “It’s the culmination of a lot of effort by the airport director and the board to realize these flights. We’ve worked to assure these flights are a success. I think they will draw people from the area. The very good prices and the timing of the flights are unique. The Florida flights have been successful. We hope these Las Vegas flights with these prices will be a success and believe they will be. From what we can tell, the flights have been well received and are pretty well booked.”

Mattingly said ticket sales for future flights are looking good.

Steve Vied, 691-7297, svied@messenger-inquirer.com