Frontier made quite the splash this week when it rolled out a whopping 54 new routes for next summer. With such a big rollout, it’s hard to narrow this down into a single trend. That being said… if I were to boil it down, I’d say it’s something along the lines of “Spirit is going to keep flying as an independent airline, it’s going to make more aggressive moves to return to profitability, and we should prevent that from happening.”
Of the 54 routes that Frontier is adding, not all are technically new. In fact, fifteen of them have been flown in the last five years, as you can see in this map.
That being said, none have been flown since summer of 2022. The last five that made it that long were Dallas/Fort Worth – Nashville and Salt Lake City, Raleigh/Durham – Miami, and Tampa, Denver – Chicago/O’Hare, and San Juan – Boston.
Of these 54 routes that Frontier is starting, the most overlap is against American which happens to fly 33 of them nonstop. Here’s how overlap looks across the industry.
New Frontier Route Overlap July 2023 – July 2024
Spirit is all the way down there with 13 overlap routes, so it may not feel like Frontier is targeting Spirit. But think of this more like pre-crime. Frontier thinks it knows what Spirit is going to do as it tries to return to profitability, so it is making pre-emptive moves.
There are three cities that really stand out to me.
This winter, Frontier is serving 16 cities from DFW with around 17 to 18 flights per day. This makes the airline the number two ultra low cost carrier (ULCC) at the airport with Spirit having 18 destinations and about 27 daily flights this winter.
In this announcement for next summer, Frontier said it would add or return to a remarkable 14 markets from DFW with 9-10 daily flights. Of those, only four are served by Spirit (Charlotte, Chicago/O’Hare, Detroit, and Los Angeles) and two by Sun Country (Minneapolis/St Paul and Puerto Vallarta), so it’s a mix of competitive and high-fare markets.
What’s particularly surprising is how deep some of this goes. DFW – Grand Rapids? Yep, that’ll be 3x weekly. Same goes for Omaha. But at the other end of the scale, Frontier will enter the very busy DFW – Houston/IAH market with 2x daily.
This move isn’t particularly surprising. Frontier has a crew base at DFW, and it has said it is moving to a move out-and-back modular schedule so the focus will be on those bases. But I do wonder if the priority moved up considering that this is also a very important market for Spirit.
The next largest expansion in this announcement is technically San Juan with eight new or returning routes, but that’s not all that interesting. Frontier recently announced it will open a crew base there as well, so of course it’s going to grow that operation.
More eye-catching is the third biggest expansion which isn’t a crew base at all. It is, however, another American hub… Charlotte. From there, Frontier will add seven new routes. besides flying to DFW and San Juan, Frontier will add Baltimore, Buffalo, Chicago/O’Hare, Houston/IAH, and New York/LaGuardia.
Until this expansion, Frontier had been planning only to serve its bases this summer in Cleveland, Denver, Las Vegas, Orlando, Philly, and Trenton. This would now seem like a prime opportunity for a future base.
The reason this is so interesting is that Spirit has had its eye on Charlotte as well. While Spirit has cut flying this year thanks to Pratt & Whitney engine groundings, it has boosted Charlotte to serve 11 cities with upwards of 15 daily flights. Last summer Spirit had around 11 daily. I’ll talk about that more later.
Frontier pulled out of LAX toward the end of 2021 and decided to try Burbank instead. That did not work, and it quickly pulled back to only serving Las Vegas from there. Outside of a limited presence in Orange County and a bigger operation in Ontario, Frontier had decided to effectively walk away from the LA area over high costs at the airport.
Now, Frontier is back, and it will start up flights to Dallas/Fort Worth, Denver, Las Vegas, Phoenix, and San Francisco. In a twist, every single one of these will be served daily. That’s not how Frontier tends to operate, but it is throwing itself into some very high profile routes.
Other notable adds are six new cities from Raleigh/Durham along with five new cities from both Minneapolis/St Paul and New York/LaGuardia. LaGuardia, of course, reminds us that what goes up must come down. Frontier presumably isn’t gaining more slots at LaGuardia, especially now that the JetBlue acquisition of Spirit was blocked. Until this gets filed in Cirium, I won’t be able to easily do a comparison, but you know there will cuts out there. Besides, Frontier changes flights so frequently that it’s hard to trust anything as final until it actually flies.
With such a varied number of changes, could this really be targeted at Spirit? Certainly the airline is hoping to take advantage of providing lower fares in big legacy airline hub markets, but that’s just the setup for what it hopes will be success. The other side of the coin is something we covered in Cranky Network Weekly last week.
In Spirit’s March schedule, when we look year-over-year, numbers two and three are Charlotte and Dallas/Fort Worth. Los Angeles is actually one of the big losers, but Frontier had left the market entirely so this is a different dynamic anyway.
Undoubtedly many of these routes will fail. That’s how Frontier operates. It throws a lot at the wall and then keeps what sticks. But, at least in part, it appears the airline is trying to find which markets Spirit might turn to in order to boost profitability and beat the airline to the punch. It’s like Frontier is trying to hunt Spirit for sport. The legacy airlines create those market opportunities, and Frontier wants to do what it can to become the primary beneficiary.