Commentary: Why the ‘genius’ of South Terminal works for millennials

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of heading home to Cincinnati on the Allegiant nonstop flight out of the South Terminal at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.

My experience heading home included a ticketing agent being cussed at by a passenger who had no clue how to get to the new terminal; a nonexistent TSA PreCheck (oh, the agony!); and a crying baby during the entire flight. These are the glories of flying in America.

The clientele of the flight consisted of penny-pinching families, students and people like me — who just wanted to make it to the weekend’s wedding on time. After my flight commenced and I stepped off my plane, I reminded myself, “I made it home for $50.”

For those of you who do not work in the aviation industry, this barely enough for an airline to cover the gas to make the 1,000-mile trip to the Midwest.

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The newly christened South Terminal is currently dominated by Allegiant. The airline not only has one of the industry’s lowest cost per available seat mile — a metric commonly used in competition among America’s ultra-low cost carriers, or ULCCs — but has steadily increased its stock price over the last five years as the airline expands its network nationwide.

When you walk into the South Terminal, you are basically enjoying the presence of a hollowed out double-wide — with a food truck on the tarmac. The result? Lower fares for Austinites to travel the country. Millennials are far more financially conscious than other generations, Forbes reported in 2015.

Furthermore, we are a generation that in waves has made our way to Europe and Asia for semesters abroad to experience firsthand the ULCC market, which included easyJet and AirAsia, where we saw other regions of the world fly at a fraction of what we pay. The ULCC market has finally entered America with full force this last decade — and the rising, working generation exacerbated its arrival.

Keeping political and societal beliefs aside, millennials did not grow up with stories of Pan Am stewardesses serving steak onboard; we were handed a GameBoy and told we’d be at Disney World in two hours. We can fit all our belongings into a “personal item” — and I highly recommend the use of vacuum bags to fit your goods into the one “free” bag you can take onboard.

BEHIND THE SCENES: A look at Austin airport’s retro-styled South Terminal.

The ULCC market is a fee game, where unlike “legacy liners” such as Delta, United, and American, it is cheaper to actually book your flight at the airport to avoid online convenience fees. For a young person, it’s worth saving upwards of $30 round trip to drive to ABIA, park your car for $3 (if you move fast enough, you’ll get back in time before the grace period expires) and book your flight home.

We are a generation that grew up with commercial aviation as a routine industry rather than a glamorous one. We understand sitting in the middle seat is not ideal — but it’s tolerable to avoid coughing up the cash to preselect our own seat.

We’ll take our chances with the random seat selection. As “entitled” — as many prefer to label us milennials as we make our way into the world to fend for ourselves — we view our own student debt and look at the mortgage and credit card debt of our parents, only to say, “I’ll take the cheaper airline, even if I am uncomfortable for a couple hours.” We’re happy just to get from Point A to Point B. ABIA’s South Terminal innovatively serves this purpose. This connects Austin to the country cheaper, faster and without going to a hub — but bring your own bottled water.

Allegiant no longer enjoys exclusivity out of the South Terminal and its three outside gates, as Via Airlines recently announced service to Branson, Missouri, so we can all enjoy some Dixie Stampede.

The inclusion of Via sparks this question: Does the South Terminal have a brighter future? With Frontier announcing eight new cities out of Austin this past week, will they join Allegiant at this bare-bones facility? Why not? With Allegiant and Frontier expanding their network out of Austin, this can only catch the eye of the only other major American ULCC: Spirit Airlines.

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The low-cost business model Allegiant has built is genius. Unlike Frontier and Spirit, Allegiant completely strays from a hub-and-spoke model and forgoes any frequent flyer program similar to its European counterpart, Ryanair.

There is a strong dichotomy behind the business models of legacy liners in the Main Terminal of Austin Bergstrom and the business models of ULCCs. They provide a service that allows Little Jimmy to visit Grandma not once a year but rather every holiday. Comfort is not the goal; connecting people with their desired destination is what makes the South Terminal an up-and-coming leader in the industry and for Central Texas.

The next time you leave the terminal with a bad experience, ask yourself, “How much did I pay for this?”

Strosnider, of Austin, works in commercial aviation.

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