United Express to end its Fresno-Las Vegas route on Labor Day

The Fresno BeeMay 27, 2014 

MTD JRW AIRPORT UNITED TAKEOFF 1

A United Express regional carrier takes off from Fresno Yosemite International Airport.

JOHN WALKER — Fresno Bee file photo Buy Photo

Labor Day will be the last day that United Express flies between Fresno and Las Vegas.

Utah-based SkyWest Airlines, which flies the route five times a day under a contract with United Airlines, confirmed Tuesday that it will stop service effective Sept. 2. The company blamed the route's "poor performance" for the decision.

The Las Vegas route accounts for 35 of the 187 flights that SkyWest flies each week from Fresno to airports in California and the western U.S., including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Phoenix, Salt Lake City and Seattle. A SkyWest spokeswoman said Las Vegas is the only Fresno service affected by the company's decision.

SkyWest's withdrawal from the Fresno-Las Vegas market will leave Allegiant Air as the only airline offering nonstop flights between the cities. And while Allegiant's ticket prices are typically far less expensive than SkyWest/United Express, its schedule is also far more limited -- only four days a week and six weekly flights.

"It's going to be a huge push for Allegiant, even though they don't fly as often," said Lisa Favareille, a travel agent with Pro Travel in Fresno. "Allegiant can be really inexpensive, but they charge for just about everything extra and it can be hard for travel schedules, unless they bump up the number of flights."

SkyWest/United Express uses 30-seat Embraer 120 Brasilia turboprops to make the 258-mile flight to Las Vegas in about 1 1/2 hours. A one-way ticket for a Sunday departure in mid-June from Fresno to Las Vegas was priced at $168 on United's reservation website.

By contrast, Allegiant serves the route with 166-seat McDonnell Douglas MD-80 jets that take just over an hour to make the trip. A one-way ticket on Allegiant's website on the same Sunday carried a starting price of $39.

SkyWest's Marissa Snow said that SkyWest opted to cancel its Fresno-Las Vegas flights, rather than reduce the number of flights per day, as part of "a cost-profit equation" that considers the airline's overall network needs. "We are also discontinuing certain underperforming routes" out of Portland, Ore., she added. "The regulatory environment has increased operating costs, which affects underperforming markets."

Allegiant Air could be in a position to capitalize on SkyWest's decision. "We are aware of the SkyWest cuts and we are considering adding additional flights," said Lindsay Hernquist, an Allegiant spokeswoman. "We are currently discussing with the airport and do not have any confirmed schedule changes at this time."

Fresno Yosemite International Airport officials learned of SkyWest's decision from The Bee when a reporter contacted the airport for reaction to the news.

Kevin Meikle, the city's director of aviation, said he was surprised by the decision, but was confident another airline would make up those lost seats.

"We know that Las Vegas is our No. 1 destination," he said. "Who knows if this is a market that's really underperforming for them, or if United believes there's another area where they can better use those aircraft."

Meikle said it's not unusual that the airline would not have provided more notice of its withdrawal from the route.

"This is a highly competitive business environment," he said. "When they make business decisions, the airport is often the last to know because they don't want to tip their hand to the competition."

Snow said United would rebook travelers who have booked United Express reservations for Fresno-Las Vegas flights after Sept. 2.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6319, tsheehan@fresnobee.com or @TimSheehanNews on Twitter.

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