CLEVELAND, Ohio - I boarded the plane in Cleveland at just after 10 in the morning and was eating barbecue for lunch in Austin a few hours later.
That's the great thing about these new flights from Allegiant Air: They transport Northeast Ohio travelers to some cool, new destinations in time for a full weekend of fun.
Here's the less-than-great thing: Three days later, my flight home was delayed an hour while a mechanic looked over the plane.
It wasn't a big deal, but it's something new Allegiant passengers should be aware of before they book: This airline has an on-time performance rating that is among the worst in the industry.On-time arrivals, January 2017
Delta, 79.3 percentAmerican, 78.6 percent Southwest, 76.5 percent United, 76.3 percent JetBlue, 75.6 percent Spirit, 75.2 percent Frontier, 71.3 percent Allegiant, 69.2 percent Sources: FlightStats.com
No one on my flight seemed too upset by the delay: "I'm glad it didn't happen on the trip down," said one; "When I'm not in a hurry, it doesn't bother me," said another; "I'll fly them again," said a third.
Instead, they focused on the positives: a $200 round-trip fare to fly nonstop to one of the hippest, hottest tourist destinations in the country right now.
This new flight to Austin is one of 11 destinations offered from Cleveland by Allegiant, the ultra-low-cost carrier that is known for its super-cheap fares to popular vacation spots.
The airline started service last week from Cleveland Hopkins, and eventually will fly to six cities in Florida, plus Phoenix, Austin, New Orleans, Myrtle Beach and Savannah/Hilton Head.
Several of the destinations - including Jacksonville and Destin, Florida, plus Savannah and Austin - are not served by another airline from Cleveland.
On my flight: a mom from Vermilion going to visit her adult son, who works in Austin's burgeoning tech field; a couple of women on a girls' weekend getaway; a young man from Parma visiting his girlfriend, who moved from Cleveland to Texas a year ago.
Most had been to Austin before - flying Southwest (through Nashville), United (through Houston) or American (through Dallas) - and were thrilled for this new cheap, nonstop flight. They figured they could fly to Texas twice on Allegiant for what one flight cost them before.
"This is going to be something I do a lot," said Amy DeFelice of Shaker Heights, who drove to Texas last week to help her fiance move and was flying home to Cleveland on my Monday flight.
But travelers who aren't familiar with Allegiant will want to keep these caveats in mind:
* Fares are cheap, yes, but don't be fooled by the base price of your flight. My round-trip fare to Austin was $186, but then I added $28 for advanced seat assignments, $30 for a carry-on bag, and $4 for water. "Even with all the extra charges, it's still a discount," said Shari Kuhn, of Vermilion. "I don't think I've ever flown to Austin for under $300."
* The airline rarely flies daily to its destinations - the flight to Austin, for example, is scheduled on Fridays and Mondays only. Traveler Mary Johnson of Erie, who was visiting her daughter in Austin, said she would have liked more options. "I wanted to stay until Tuesday because I have Presidents Day off," she said. "That's the only down side for me."
* Allegiant planes are old and bare bones. There's no in-flight entertainment, no optional wi-fi, no complimentary beverages, and the seats don't recline.On board an Allegiant Airbus A320, readying for takeoff to Austin, Texas.Susan Glaser, The Plain Dealer
One positive about these planes - they have more legroom than other ultra-low cost carriers, including Spirit and Frontier. I expected to feel cramped in my seat for the three-hour flight to Austin, but it wasn't too bad.
According to the website seatguru.com, Allegiant planes average 30 inches of seat pitch (that's the space between seats) versus 28 inches for Spirit and Frontier. Allegiant seats, however, are narrower - 17 inches wide, versus 17 3/4 or 18 inches for Frontier and Spirit.
On the trip south, we flew a 187-seat Airbus A320 that was nearly full. The return flight to Cleveland was on a 166-seat MD-80, again, almost full.
Allegiant's fleet of 86 planes includes 35 Airbus 320s and 319s, and 47 MD-80s. It's the oldest commercial fleet in the United States, with an average age of 22 years.
Allegiant is in the process of phasing out the MD-80s, in part because of high maintenance costs. (The Tampa Bay Times has done an excellent job chronicling reliability and safety concerns related to Allegiant's older fleet; read more here: tampabay.com/allegiant.)
So I wasn't completely surprised when, not long after boarding in Texas on Monday morning, a flight attendant came over the loudspeaker and told us there was a delay.
A mechanic was on his way to the aircraft, she said. "We'll be on our way to Cleveland once we confirm that our fuel system is exactly where we want it to be," she said.
Hmmm, I thought to myself: Do I really want to know what that means?
We got the all clear about 45 minutes later, then had an uneventful flight back to Cleveland.
"I'll definitely fly them again," said my seatmate Nicholas Peters, of Parma, who was visiting his girlfriend for the weekend.
Even with the extra hour tacked onto the return flight, he figures he's ahead. "Give me something cheap and nonstop," he said. "Saving a couple of hours is a big deal to me."
The majority of our fellow passengers, I'm guessing, felt much the same way.
Next week in Travel: Three days in Austin, from blues to barbecue to LBJ
Read more about Allegiant: 4 things to know about Cleveland Hopkins' newest carrier
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