Southwest May Not Love Newark, But Frontier Sure Does

Frontier has served New York’s LaGuardia Airport for many years, but it doesn’t want to fly to New York from just one airport. Days after Southwest quits flying from Newark entirely, Frontier will be setting up shop. These are very different airlines, but the contrast in how they view Newark is worth examining.

Frontier is going into Newark in a big way. Well, at least, it’s big for Frontier. Service starts on November 14 to four cities, but by next year there will be flights to 15 different cities. And this isn’t the usual Frontier plan of flying a couple days a week on each route. Every route announced so far will operate at least daily. Here’s the rundown:

DestinationFrequencyStart DateLas VegasDailyNov 14San JuanOrlando2x DailyMiamiNov 14 (2nd starts Dec 10)AtlantaDailyDec 10PhoenixWest Palm BeachCancunTBDMar/Apr 2020Chicago/O’HareDallas/Fort WorthDenverOntarioPunta CanaRaleigh/DurhamTampa

This is no Allegiant flying to smaller markets. Frontier looks to have just taken a list of the biggest destinations from Newark and decided to fly to them. Interestingly, some of these (Atlanta, Denver, Miami, and Orlando) are already served by Frontier from LaGuardia. If you can’t grow at LaGuardia, might as well find the next best option, I suppose.

The first destinations are “sun” destinations where winter demand is highest. (Ok, so Atlanta may be something of an outlier there.) These flights are going to be hugely Newark-origin, something that Southwest said it simply couldn’t attract.

After the winter, Frontier will expand into other cities which are Frontier strongholds like Chicago, Denver, Raleigh/Durham, and the surprise transcon to Ontario. The only one that has me scratching my head is Punta Cana. After all, demand has reportedly tanked in the Dominican Republic thanks to the reporting of tourist deaths as well as the shooting of Big Papi. I do wonder if this route sticks, but for the rest, hopes are higher for success.

Why does Frontier see opportunity where Southwest doesn’t? Well, in the big leisure markets like that bottomless pit of demand to Florida, Frontier has a better model. Frontier can make money offering much lower fares since it has taken bags, food, etc out of the base fare. It has also dramatic reduced its costs. A lower sustainable fare will help to stimulate local traffic.

Southwest had multiple frequencies in many markets and was clearly making a play for the leisure and business traveler. With daily service, Frontier might find the stray business traveler who doesn’t care about her MileagePlus status, but it’s really about leisure.

To make this even more clear, just look at the schedule here. We only have the first seven markets loaded so far, but:

While a couple of airplanes come in late and spend the night, most airplanes come in and do a turn. Most notably, Frontier has so far completely avoided scheduling during the peak afternoon hours, and it is expected to continue that when those new flights get added next year. Frontier mentioned this in the press release, and there is good reason to do this.

Newark is congested, and the afternoon hours are the worst. The hardest part about operating at Newark is getting gates, but if Frontier is going to operate outside those peak hours it should be able to utilize gates that are now primarily used by international airlines during the afternoon peak. Problem solved.

Normally, this is a bad idea, because it means Frontier can’t actually operate when people want to travel. But remember, this is Frontier. It is selling a cheap fare, and it figures that people will be willing to shift their schedules to save a buck. Setting operating hours outside of prime time allows the airline to get into the airport and it shouldn’t dramatically impact the bottom line. At least, it won’t have nearly the same impact as it would have on a carrier catering to the business traveler.

The timing of this announcement is somewhat amusing. Frontier is on a kick lately about saying just how “green” and environmentally friendly the airline is. CEO Barry Biffle gave a speech that fell flat at the Boyd Conference last week where he teased a new class of service only to reveal the joke that it was just calling every existing seat “Green Class” thanks to how fuel efficient the airline is. Why is it so fuel efficient? Besides the newer airplanes, it’s because it packs in the number of passengers and charges for bags, among other things. It has even rolled out a website at flygreener.com.

Why do I say the timing is amusing? Just think how much fuel Frontier will burn while slowly taxiing out to the runway in Newark. Would a truly green airline fly to an airport like that? Maybe when Barry was talking about being “green,” he was referring to the color of money. Because Frontier, unlike Southwest, thinks Newark is going to make the airline a whole lot of cash.

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Muscat,  Oman
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