December 7, 2015

Jet Off To Orlando With Allegiant

We’ve got it good here, Omaha travelers. We can fly directly to the Orlando area with the low-cost carrier Allegiant. It’s pretty easy and affordable to get to your dream vacation now.

Florida gator

Florida gator

Allegiant started flying out of Omaha in the past year, and they invited my family to try out their Omaha-Clearwater Florida route earlier this year. It was not without a hitch and I shared my experiences and tips for making yours go better here.

Allegiant logo

In spite of it all, I was willing to give it another try. It’s so cheap to fly with them, that I knew I had readers out there who could only travel when fares were that low. And, the airline does do some things well that help ease (a little) the sting of delays and other issues.

So, when they offered to fly the family again on the new route to see how it compares, I took the bait.

 

It went so much better than our first flight!

Cocoa Beach is about an hour drive from Seminole County, Florida, where the Orlando Sanford International Airport is located.

Cocoa Beach is about 70 miles from the Orlando Sanford International Airport. We went there during our weekend visit.

Omaha to Orlando Sanford International Airport

Less than three hours on a plane and you’re a 30-minute drive to major theme parks – and if you are into outdoor adventures, you’re even closer to zipline courses, airboat tours, and canoeing in the wilds of Florida. I tried all those adventurous things on a recent trip.

Adventure

The perks of the  Orlando Sanford International Airport

– On-site car rentals and easy returns

– It’s so near Orlando!

– A much, much quicker check-in for departure than what we experienced on a previous trip. We got to the check-in counter with minimal wait and for security, they were directing families with small children to a shorter line. Made it less stressful for all involved.

– This is so smart for anxious kids: They have a large-screen TV set up to Disney shows (but of course). So, if you’re like me and prefer getting to the airport super early, you have an easy way to pass the time.

Tips On Flying Allegiant To Sanford/Orlando

(or any destination Allegiant flies, really)

We did things a little different than our first trip, and it made our Allegiant experience even better. Here’s what I’ve learned:

  1. When they say arrive two hours early, they mean it. At Omaha’s Eppley Airfield, you can get away with edging closer to one hour early like you do for other airlines, but I’ve found at the vacation destination spots, early is best. Allegiant flies to and from Omaha on Thursdays and Sundays, and that appears to be the case of many other cities with Allegiant routes to and from prime vacation destinations. Those flights all leave at pretty similar times. And all those travelers have to file through the same check-in counters and security lines.
  2. Boarding time is fluid. The airline also says boarding begins an hour before take off. So far, that has never been the case. Since they board by zones, you’re fine moseying up to your designated zone right as those doors open. You might be the last in your zone, but your seats are already assigned, so nothing is gained by standing in line for that long. There’s nothing that makes young kids more anxious than waiting in line.
  3. Pack more snacks than you need and empty water bottles to fill at the airport. There is a snack and beverage service on the plane – for a cost. It’s totally acceptable (and smart when traveling with kids) to bring on food. Flights are about three hours and there’s a good chance you’ll be traveling over a mealtime anyway. Plus, there’s also the chance of a delay, so it’s better to be prepared to feed your brood during that wait too.
  4. Relax about seating arrangements. If you’re traveling with young kids, you will get seat assignments with at least one parent with one kid. On our first flight, we were 2 and 2; on this recent flight, we had three seats together and one on the other side of the aisle (great for the parent who needs a time out). For adults traveling together but without kids in town, you do have to pay extra to be seated together.
  5. Bring travel pillows and/or blankets if traveling with kids who might want one. I’ve never seen comfort items like a blanket handed out on Allegiant. Side note: If traveling with the booster or carseat age crowd, those are free to check in either as luggage or at the gate.
  6. Expect a wait. When we were leaving Omaha this month, I explained to Farley the concept of hurry up and wait. Such is the way of air travel. Accept that a delay is likely and you won’t get angry at the desk clerk who has nothing to do with said delay. Come prepared with distractions and food.
  7. Sign up for alerts for your flight. You’ll get texts if there’s a major delay expected.
  8. Get the Allegiant app on your phone. It was pretty nice cruising through security and boarding the plane and NOT having to shuffle through every family member’s boarding passes. There are phone scanners at security and the boarding gate in Sanford.

Your turn: What tips do you have for flying with Allegiant?

Additional posts about Seminole County

Central Florida Adventure

ZoomAir Adventure Park Orlando (Sanford, Florida)

Central Florida Zoo (Sanford, Florida)

Hilton Altamonte Springs (Altamonte Springs, Florida)

April 24, 2015

What To Expect When Flying Allegiant Air

There’s a new airline in Omaha, a discount carrier that flies us directly to vacation destinations. Right now, you can fly Allegiant Air to Florida (arriving at to St. Petersburg/Clearwater International Airport near Tampa) and soon they’ll offer flights to California (arriving at Oakland/San Francisco Airport).

Raise your hand if you like direct flights. High five.

Me too.

Allegiant logo

Allegiant Air offered to fly me and my family to St. Petersburg/Clearwater International Airport in exchange for telling you all about it.

Allgiant title

Here’s the deal, it’s cheap and convenient to fly Allegiant from Omaha directly the Tampa Bay area, but there are indeed a few catches.

Mr. Wonderful likened it to a hostel. There are certain things you have to accept as part of the deal of a hostel. There are “extras” you’ll have to pay for if you want them at a hostel, like having your own bathroom, right? Don’t complain about how a hostel works just because it’s not like a hotel. Same goes for a budget carrier. Just accept that the lower price means that certain things are “extras.”

So back to those catches…

No. 1. Most things are extra and you’ll have to pay for them. You get one personal item to carry on like a small backpack or purse at no cost, but any other carry-on and all checked luggage is additional. So, just accept that you’ll have to pay a little more so you can bring clothes.

I have a sister-in-law planning a girls getaway with a friend to Clearwater Beach and after comparing prices with other carriers, even with the added fees, the ticket with Allegiant ended up being cheaper.

No. 2. Your seats are randomly assigned at check in. We were traveling with two small children so we were paired two and two. Our two pairs, however, were not randomly assigned next to each other. No big deal. But if it is to you, you’ll have to pay $12 per person to move seats. Want to move your seat assignment to a window? Pay $12.

Side note: Go online starting 24 hours before your flight to check in online. Print your boarding passes at home so you can avoid the $5 fee to have the airline print them out the day of your flight. Plus, checking in early gives you more flexibility with seating.

No. 3. There are only two flights to and from Omaha each week – Thursday and Sunday. We took a Thursday to Sunday trip. It’s a nice length for a quick getaway, but man, we left wishing we had more time there. There’s a lot to do!

 

Flying Allegiant Air – my family’s experience

Allegiant flies out of Omaha late Thursday mornings, arriving in Florida at around 3 p.m. Like most people on our flight, I had planned on taking advantage of the remainder of that day in order to get the most out of our Thursday to Sunday getaway.

Destination: Florida.

Destination: Florida.

Unfortunately, the proverbial “stuff” happened. It was out of the airline’s control, but our Omaha flight was delayed. By, like, five hours. Maybe six. I stopped counting.

What happened? We were waiting for the Tampa flight to arrive, only it had experienced a weather delay compounded by a maintenance issue and the need to re-staff the flight.

I have to hand it to Allegiant. They set up a text alert with ticketholders so they can notify passengers ahead of time if their flight may be delayed.

I didn’t have the alerts set up initially, so we ended up at the airport for the original flight time and marveled at how short the wait was to check in. Well, most everyone else got that notification.

Anyway, I got it set up and we were able to leave the airport to pass some time in downtown Omaha.

Nothing like being stuffed between two carseats. My dad was carting us around Omaha and let's just say my parents haven't had to drive youngsters around for a while.

Nothing like being stuffed between two carseats and impatiently waiting for vacation to start. My dad was carting us around Omaha and let’s just say my parents haven’t had to drive youngsters around for a while.

I could check my texts as well as AllegiantAir.com to see what the inbound flight status was.

Tip: If you have kids and have a long wait at the airport, the Omaha Children’s Museum is a short distance away.

Our flight ended up being delayed even longer than anticipated, so we did have to spend some time waiting at the Omaha airport.

Allegiant took care of all of us passengers, though. They set up a courtesy table of free beverages and then handed out meal vouchers.

Waiting eagerly to board our plane.

Waiting eagerly to board our plane.

Some people did lose their cool – if they were planning quick trips like me, they were losing valuable vacation time. I had to cancel dinner reservations and neglect to tell my kids there was a pool at our hotel because that was going to be our Thursday entertainment.

By the time we returned to the airport – 2:30ish – there was no plane in sight. We were told the plane would be arriving in Omaha by 3:04. “The computer still shows an arrival time of 3:04,” we were told… but the actual clock was saying 3:20 and there was no plane in sight.

So we waited. Incidentally, this was about the time of day we all had planned on being in Florida. I bet some planned on already being sunburned or drunk by 3:04 Omaha time.

Those losing their marbles were passengers, not anyone with the airline. I watched airline personnel be very accommodating with people. One family traveling with a toddler asked if there were any open seats for him – they’d intended on him sitting on their laps but after the wait, they knew he’d need a chair to sleep on. Allegiant found some unoccupied seats on the flight and let them move without charging for that extra seat.

In spite of the delay and some frustrated passengers, our crew was cheerful and kinda funny. I like happy flight crew, but the perkiness wore on other passengers after the long day.

They offered in-flight snacks and beverages at a cost. I had packed snacks and filled up our water bottles, so that didn’t matter. I recommend that route, saving your money for rum drinks. Right?

There was no in-flight entertainment – you had to bring your own portable devices if you wanted music or a movie. No wi-fi, either.

By the time we arrived, patience had worn a little thin.

The wait for our luggage felt like a long time, mainly because everyone was up way past their bedtime.

The wait for our luggage felt like a long time, mainly because everyone was up way past their bedtime.

St. Petersburg/Clearwater International Airport

You aren’t technically arriving in Tampa, though you’re close to it. St. Petersburg/Clearwater International Airport is, obviously, closer St. Petersburg and Clearwater, and the other smaller, beachy towns. If your main plan is to hit the beach, opt for a hotel in either of those cities.

Sunset at Clearwater Beach.

Sunset at Clearwater Beach.

Tampa isn’t far, but it’s still a 20- to 40-minute drive depending on traffic. We arrived late and had to get a rental car, so by the time we hit the road, it was 10-ish.

The nice thing about this airport is that several rental car agencies have cars parked on-site at the airport, so it’s easy to walk out of the airport and to your car. It’s also quick and easy to return the car.

 

Flying back to Omaha

St. Petersburg/Clearwater International Airport is smallish, but don’t be fooled. It’s a tourist destination and a lot of people head home on Sundays. Don’t arrive as if you’re catching a flight out of Omaha – allow plenty of time for check in.

Where did all these people come from?!

Where did all these people come from?!

We arrived late for our return flight – a puking kid, an unplanned bathroom stop and a stop to fill up gas in the rental car will do that. By the time we were at the airport, there was an incredibly long line for the Allegiant counter.

Ticketing agents hustled people on our Omaha flight to a separate, shorter line and we made it onto the plane with minutes to spare. Whew.

Would I recommend Allegiant?

Heck yeah. I consider two things when booking a flight: Which flight is the cheapest and which one gets us there the fastest. Nonstop flights trump all else.

If you’re on a budget, you can’t beat a cheap ticket for a direct flight to a tourist destination. If you like a little pampering, or you like knowing your entire trip cost up-front, look for a different carrier.

And FYI, Allegiant partners with more than 20 of the most popular hotel properties in the Tampa Bay area, provides low-cost car rental service through its partnership with Alamo Rent a Car and offers great deals on local activities. Omaha travelers can book their entire Tampa Bay vacation for less by visiting Allegiant.com.

 * * * * *

Thinking of flying your family to Tampa? Check out my two-day itinerary for Tampa Bay! We crammed a lot in, which I actually wouldn’t suggest. Mix and match my recommended places to see:

The Florida Aquarium 

Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) 

Clearwater Marine Aquarium 

Morean Arts Center and Hot Shop

Columbia Restaurant

If you L-O-V-E food and pampering, read my post about Epicurean Hotel in the beautiful Hyde Park area of Tampa.