New carrier Allegiant helps boost gradual passenger recovery at Tucson airport

By Elizabeth Quinlan/Arizona Sonora News

Passenger numbers at Tucson International Airport declined for a decade, as major airlines cut back service to midsize and small airports in order to more profitably concentrate flights (and revenue) at major hubs, but there are indications that Tucson is on the upswing.

Last year, more than 3.6 million airline passengers departed from or arrived at Tucson International Airport, making it one of the 10 busiest years in the airport’s 70-year history, the Tucson Airport Authority says.

December’s total of 330,561 was up 10.3% over December 2017. 

The increase was attributed to airlines adding new destinations, using larger aircraft and the November arrival of low-cost carriers Allegiant and Frontier, along with the return of Sun Country, which resumed seasonal service for a second year in December, the airport authority said.

Also, Southwest Airlines added weekly nonstop flights on Sundays to its hometown airport, Dallas Love Field.

All airlines increased their passenger totals at TUS in 2018. American Airlines continued as the airport’s busiest carrier, serving 1,368,455 passengers, a 3.3% increase over 2017. Southwest was the second busiest airline, serving 976,769 passengers.

Ribbon cutting to open new Gate C in January. Photo: Tucson International Airport

Since last November, Allegiant Air, a low-cost carrier with limited service mostly to vacation markets, has been operating at Tucson International. A new Gate C opened in January to accommodate the carrier and, city officials said, will serve to attract new service.

Allegiant’s 2017 annual report describes its marketing strategy: “We provide scheduled air transportation on limited-frequency, nonstop flights predominantly between under-served cities and popular leisure destinations.”

Allegiant now has two destinations out of Tucson: Bellingham, Washington — which is just across the border from Vancouver, Canada — and Provo, Utah. The current weekly schedule includes the following:


Bellingham International Airport      
Depart Bellingham 3:30 p.m. Arrive Tucson 7:30 p.m. Thursdays and Sundays
Depart Tucson 8:00 p.m. Arrive Bellingham 10:30 p.m.
Provo Municipal Airport      
Depart Provo 9:00 a.m. Arrive Tucson 10:45 a.m. Fridays and Mondays
Depart Tucson 11:30 a.m. Arrive Provo 1:15 p.m.

Part of Allegiant’s strategy is to offer package deals to flyers with hotel add-ons and rental cars, which is part of the attraction for many leisure travelers.

In recent years, Tucson International airport’s passenger statistics show that in the past 10 years, passenger numbers have still not reached the highs seen in 2009, when the airport reported 3.7 million arriving and departing passengers. That number dropped to 3.1 million in 2015, but it had grown to 3.6 million in 2018, the airport authority says.

The Tucson airport is served by nine airlines: Alaska, Allegiant, American, Delta, Frontier, Southwest, Sun Country, United and Via Air, They fly to 22 destination airports: Atlanta, Austin, Bellingham (Vancouver), Charlotte, Chicago Midway, Chicago O’Hare, Dallas/Fort Worth, Denver, Houston Hobby, Houston Intercontinental, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Oakland, Phoenix, Portland, Provo, Salt Lake City, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose and Seattle.


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