Frontier’s Massive Route Expansion Shows Which Cities Are Working and Maybe Which Ones Aren&#8

Frontier has been on a tear lately, adding dozens and dozens of new routes for the summer. Just when I figured the airline might be done, I found out it’s releasing even more routes today. (If the press release isn’t out yet, keep watching.) This sounds like an airline just putting airplanes anywhere it can find a gate, but there’s a lot we can learn from these moves. We’re far enough into Frontier’s makeover as an ultra low cost carrier that trends are beginning to pop out. We can see which cities are working well, and we can start to guess which ones aren’t.

The biggest route dump so far came last week when the airline said it was starting 42 new routes. (I could only count 41, but that’s still insane.) What’s really interesting is that after Frontier CEO Barry Biffle boasted to me about the airline going down to having only 6 sub-daily routes, it has now reversed coursed. Not one of these 42 (or 41) routes will operate every day of the week.

Frontier has created a pattern here where flights operate either Tuesday/Thursday/Sunday or Monday/Wednesday/Friday/Saturday. That means each destination will have flights every day of the week. It’s just that the airplanes will come from different places. For example, St Augustine, Florida is a new, small station for the airline. It will have only one flight a day. On Monday/Wednesday/Friday/Saturday it gets flights from Philly while on the other days it gets flights from Chicago.

Reading through the press release, it looks like Frontier is adding a bunch of flights to a bunch of random places at random times. At least, that’s how they’ve spun it to appeal to people in every destination. But if you look at it, there are some aircraft bases that must be doing well, because they’re growing… a lot. Take a look at this map from the Great Circle Mapper:

You can see the patterns here. Some of the airline’s bases are gaining a lot of new destinations. Orlando continues to grow tremendously and has become, I believe, the largest city for Frontier after Denver. That’s a success story. But that’s Orlando, the bottomless pit of theme park-zombies who love a bargain. More interestingly than that, take a look at Philly. Frontier that used to think Trenton and Wilmington were the way to serve Philly, but that strategy is toast. Philly itself is where the money is to be made. With Southwest having retrenched there, it makes sense that Frontier (or anyone) could come in and dramatically undercut American’s fares.

Atlanta is another apparent success story. Considering that when Southwest took over AirTran it slashed its routes, cut its flight frequencies, and raised its fares, Atlanta seems like it’s ripe for the picking. Chicago/O’Hare also appears to be doing well. Spirit has grown a lot there too, but considering how big Chicago is, there’s just plenty of room for everyone to cherry pick. Cleveland and Cincinnati seem to have picked up a few routes to larger cities as well. With United and Delta retrenching respectively, airlines with lower costs have seen real opportunity.

Maybe what’s more interesting is what cities aren’t seeing new flights. We don’t see Denver in this list. Today’s announcement actually has some Denver in it, but Denver was already big. I wouldn’t expect explosive growth there. It looks Washington/Dulles and Trenton see nothing either. Trenton will be lucky to keep what it has as Philly continues to grow. And as for Dulles, it seems like yet another low cost carrier has failed to find the success for which it hoped.

It should also be noted that there’s nothing for Miami in this announcement. To be fair, it’s summer, so you’d expect Miami might not grow until the winter. But my guess is that Frontier is just finding like everyone else that Miami’s costs are far too high and it’s tough to make low cost service work there.

It must be a lot of fun to be a route planner at Frontier these days. I’m sure some of these new routes are being funded by the death of old ones. Some could be seasonal, some not. Frontier’s network is certainly fairly fluid as it tries to find the network that will work best for the airline. At this point, it doesn’t look like Frontier is short of options at all.

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