BLAST FROM THE PAST: Allegiant to offer Custer to Rapid City flights

Jason Ferguson

This story originally ran in the April 1, 2015 Custer County Chronicle. It was a fake April Fool's Day story that to this day remains one of the most remember and talked about stories in the past 20 years of the Chronicle.

Allegiant Air, a U.S.-based, publicly traded (NASDAQ symbol ALGT) low-cost airline, has announced it will offer six flights a month from the Custer County Airport to Rapid City Regional Airport, beginning July 1.
“We are very pleased to start offering this flight,” said Maurice J. Gallagher, Jr., CEO of Allegiant Air. “We feel Custer-to-Rapid City will soon be one of our marquee flights, right up there with flights to Las Vegas. We’re very excited to add Custer to the growing list of communities we service.”
Like most of Allegiant’s flights, the Custer to Rapid City flight will be made via a McDonnell Douglas MD-83, which will seat 123 economy-class passengers. The flight will take 16 minutes tarmac to tarmac, Gallagher said.
“With this flight, we save Custer commuters 30 minutes of driving, as well as the burden of having to drive through Hill City,” Gallagher said. “We know in the summer, getting behind some RV on the highway can be infuriating.”
The airline will begin taking reservations for flights to Rapid City immediately and will hold an internet special on the company’s website ( for tickets, which for the first month will be $375 for the one-way flight. After the first month, the cost will be $450.
For the first year, there will be no return flight to Custer, as the runway at the Custer County Airport is too short to accommodate an MD-83 landing. As it is, takeoffs will begin in a field behind the airport and rumble through the grass for 300 yards before hitting the runway and taking off. Once in Rapid City, the planes will then be taken apart, put on trucks and transported back to Custer, where county maintenance staff will put them back together for the next flight.
“Hopefully, those who fly from Custer to Rapid City can find a place to stay until they can get a ride home,” Gallagher said. “We have also formed a partnership with Rapid Taxicab Service to bring people back to Custer for a special rate of $175.”
Allegiant Airline officials pitched the idea of the flight to the Custer County Commission months ago in executive session, with final details being worked out at the commission’s most recent meeting. To accommodate the flight, the Custer County Commission has agreed to pour $93.4 million into the airport for such amenities as a terminal, a news stand, security, four portly Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials, handicapped access, a revamped pilot’s lounge, a bar and two wildly overpriced restaurants.
Commissioners openly worried about being able to pay for funding the airport, but were able to fund the project over the next five years by cuts in the current budget, including a hiring and salary freeze, replacing county staff computers with typewriters, elimination of patrols by the sheriff’s department between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., and a moratorium on fixing or maintaining county roads for the next four years.
“We feel with this solution, we will better serve the taxpayers of Custer County,” said county commissioner Pill Hampert. “Who hasn’t been halfway to Rapid City and thought to themselves, ‘God, I hate this drive?’”
Allegiant, well known for its crafty ways to save money to offer bargain flights, has also announced it will keep the cost of the flight from Custer to Rapid City down by forgoing the use of commerical pilots and allowing members of the Civil Air Patrol or local hobby pilots to command the flights.
Ronald Burgeois, a local pilot of six months, said although he has never flown a plane bigger than a single-engine Cessna, he is confident that flying a Jumbo Jet won’t be much different.
“If you’ve flown one plane, you’ve flown them all,” Burgeois said. “The best way to learn is to do it, anyway.”
Allegiant also announced that since the flight is so short, no flight attendants will be present on the plane. Instead, a name from the flight manifest will be drawn at random during the boarding process and that person will be tasked with giving the pre-flight instructions, including how to fasten a seatbelt and how to put on the oxygen mask in the increasingly-likely chance of the cabin losing pressurization.
Custer County and Allegiant Air plan to host a joint groundbreaking ceremony to welcome the airline to Custer May 15. The public is invited, but reminded that since Allegiant Air is hosting the event, attendees at the event will be charged for seating, bags, food and possibly the oxygen they breathe.
“We look forward to seeing you all come out,” Gallagher said. “Custer is officially on the map. Oh, and happy April Fool’s Day!”

User login