Over the past several years, civil aviation has seen more than its fair share of turbulence. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, terrorism fears crippled the industry, leaving domestic air travel virtually grounded and sending most airlines into a tailspin. An economic downturn, coupled with Iraq uncertainties that caused a surge in oil prices, didn't help matters.
Quickly losing altitude, the nation's largest carriers scrambled to gain stability: United Airlines (Nasdaq: UAUA), Delta Air Lines (NYSE: DAL), Northwest Airlines (NYSE: NWA) and US Airways (NYSE: LCC) sought bankruptcy protection. Continental Airlines (NYSE: CAL) and American Airlines (NYSE: AMR) avoided Chapter 11 reorganization but raised fares, eliminated jobs and cut employee wages and benefits. With the fear of flying having receded and the economy rebounding, the big boys are in their best shape in years. But now there is a new challenge to contend with: low-cost competition. Discount carriers like Southwest Airlines (NYSE: LUV), JetBlue (Nasdaq: JBLU) and Midwest Express (AMEX: MEH) have siphoned away passengers from full-service airlines. One high-growth small cap, Las Vegas-based Allegiant Travel Company (Nasdaq: ALGT), is flying high, while carving out a cut-rate niche at underserved airports. Allegiant Air flies budget-conscious travelers from about 50 small U.S. cities to world-class leisure destinations such as Las Vegas, Nev., Phoenix, Ariz., Orlando, Fla., Fort Lauderdale, Fla. and Tampa/St. Petersburg, Fla.
Allegiant is a low-fare outfit which has a fleet of MD-80 series jets (with comfortable seating and spacious overhead luggage bins), offers ticketless "open seating" and prides itself on providing superior customer service. The company also sells bundled hotel rooms, rental cars and other travel-related services through Allegiant's other subsidiary, Allegiant Vacations, to drive ancillary revenues.