Snowbirds and vacationers from the Quad-City region will have nonstop flights into southwest Florida beginning later this year when Allegiant expands jet service between the Quad-City International Airport and Punta Gorda Airport, airport officials announced Tuesday.
Surrounded by tropical-themed props and handing out bottles of sunscreen, Bruce Carter, the airport's aviation director, announced that Allegiant will begin the new nonstop jet service from Moline to Punta Gorda effective Nov. 1. The Quad-City airport was among eight airports receiving the new service.
"We have been in discussions with Allegiant for the past 15 months to secure this new service,'' he said at a news conference at the airport. "It's a great day for the Quad-City International Airport. It's a great day for people wanting to get down to their southwest Florida destination ..."
The new destination marks the fifth nonstop destination that Allegiant has added to its Quad-City lineup since entering the market in October 2010.
Allegiant already serves the Moline airport with flights to the Florida markets of Orlando-Sanford and St. Petersburg/Clearwater as well as Las Vegas and Phoenix-Mesa.
The new Punta Gorda service, Carter said, will be a more convenient flight for Quad-Citians headed to southwest Florida destinations, such as Fort Myers, Naples and Sanibel Island. He said the Punta Gorda/Fort Myers area was top of the wish list for many Quad-City travelers.
The new flights, which are considered a seasonal service, will operate twice weekly on Mondays and Fridays.
"If demand is there, Allegiant will not be afraid to have more flights," he said, adding that he hopes the service will become a year-round flight. The flights will be provided on 166-seat MD-80 aircraft.
"This is Allegiant's fifth nonstop destination with us ... We are happy that their confidence with the Quad-City area has grown in such a short time," Carter said.
In addition to the Quad-Cities, Allegiant announced it will extend the Punta Gorda service to these markets: Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Allentown, Pa.; Asheville, N.C.; Bangor, Maine; Springfield/Branson, Mo.; and Youngstown, Ohio.
Asked about the competition with Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, Carter said Allegiant's presence locally and at several other Midwest airports has led to a "net increase in passengers at all those facilities."
Allegiant, a Las Vegas-based travel company, also partners with other hospitality companies to offer travelers assistance with hotels, car rentals and attractions.
"We are excited to extend our brand of convenient low-cost travel with nonstop service from the Quad-Cities to southwest Florida," Andrew Levy, the president of Allegiant Travel Co., said in a news release.
Meanwhile, Carter said the airport and the Quad-Cities Chamber of Commerce — through a joint Air Service Committee — still are working to bring direct service to Washington, D.C. He said the airport has been looking at its options of getting into the nation's capital, and Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Va., appears to be the most likely entrance into the market.
"We're still trying to fine-tune some details," he said, adding that the airport is lobbying United and American Airlines to bring the service here.
"Punta Gorda was a goal of the airport's, and they demonstrated how aggressive they can be in achieving it," said Paul Rumler, the chamber's executive vice president, who serves on the Air Service Committee. "Just like the airport was aggressive on Punta Gorda, we're going to be just as aggressive (to bring service to Washington)."