Southwest Continues to Grow in Denver, Frontier Pees Its Pants

DEN - Denver, Frontier, Southwest

Poor Frontier. When they look out their windows, they must see Canyon Blue-colored vultures circling the premises. There’s no question that Southwest is going in for the kill. Southwest Finishing FrontierThis week, Southwest said it would once again pump up its Denver flying.

First, here are the details. On June 4, Southwest will add an eighth daily nonstop between Denver and Vegas. The airline will also start twice daily service between Denver and both Portland and Indianapolis. On August 23, San Antonio gets a second flight from Denver.

The Southwest route map from Denver is starting to look quite similar to the Frontier map. Really, the big cities are mostly covered and now Southwest is getting into the secondary ones. To compound the problem, Frontier also announced this week that it would be terminating its contract with Republic to do some regional flying for them. That means they will no longer serve Missoula, Sioux City, Jacksonville, Little Rock, Tulsa, and former mini-hub Memphis. None of those are cities to which Southwest flies nonstop from Denver, so that means Frontier will only have even MORE exposure to the airline. The Republic service must have been an unbelievably poor performer for Frontier to want to ditch it that quickly.

This effectively leaves Lynx and its small fleet of Q400s (they launched Durango the same day this Southwest release came out) to keep the airline away from Southwest, but that’s not going to really cut it. Sadly, Frontier’s time may be up soon.

The airline is in bankruptcy, very low on cash, and looking for funding. With Southwest moving in heavily on Frontier’s only stronghold, I think it’s going to be tough to find someone willing to pour money into the airline. It’s sad, because I really like flying Frontier, but I just don’t know how they can get out of this mess.

Get Cranky in Your Inbox!

The airline industry moves fast. Sign up and get every Cranky post in your inbox for free.

27 comments on “Southwest Continues to Grow in Denver, Frontier Pees Its Pants

  1. I too really like Frontier! Until they recently reduced seat pitch, I thought they had the LCC thing done nearly perfectly – good seat pitch (6 foot plus bliss), PTV, and a centrally located hub (albeit a crazy one when the snow hit).

    I also think that UA is going to feel it from the continued SW expansion. UA stated they will reduce their domestic schedule and Denver is their largest domestic flying hub. I’d assume then that Denver will have the most cuts for UA while SW continues to grow.

    Anyone think that SW may offer seasonal flights to the Colorado ski destinations in the future? Maybe not Aspen, but Vail/Eagle Creek? AA sends 75s there so why not a bunch of SW 73s from the southwest states. No need to connect in Denver on UA, just fly direct on SW.

    I really do like SW, but, their product is dated with no real plan i know about to make it better (PTV? Power Ports?). So to see an LCC with what I would consider a superior product potentially die because of them is sad.

    One last thought – what about a Frontier/JetBlue merger? Basically the same metal and now a more centrally located hub allowing shorter stage lengths.

  2. Sheesh. Who needs 8 daily direct flight between ANY two places? That’s whats killling our ATC system, as you’ve said.

  3. Jeff K – Southwest has announced it will be testing in-flight wi-fi, so there is something planned. Also, Denver just doesn’t seem like a place that needs three airlines hubbed there (or focused, if you prefer). So if JetBlue buys Frontier, what do they get? More airplanes? Ugh.

  4. CF – Good point about the triple-hub. I had also heard of the wi-fi testing, but, has anyone really got it working well?

    I kinda don’t want wifi to become ubiquitous as then I’d be reachable in one of the last places that allows me to disconnect.

  5. Well, the Frontier Airbuses have different engines than the JetBlue ones, so even if JetBlue wanted more planes they’d just create a new problem. Would be easier for JetBlue to just keep the ones they’re planning to sell and pay for the D-checks.

    However, there is hope – according to Michael Boyd’s website, Frontier is still attracting a fare premium in markets where they compete with Southwest, along with an 85% load factor. (It’s on, scroll down to April 14.) So Southwest may (emphasis “may”, Boyd Group isn’t always 100% objective in my experience) not be as big a factor as they appear to be.

    There’s actually some speculation that the bankruptcy filing was not just because of the credit card processor issue (although that certainly dictated the timing), but also so Frontier could dump the Republic contract.

    Frontier’s cash position is very troubling, though.

  6. At first, I feared for the city of Denver if United was left to gouge us in a post-Frontier world, but now I see that Cranky is right, Southwest will inherit the low cost mantle in Denver from Frontier if they disappear.

    Frontier is smart to move into smaller markets with the Q400, which happen to be big vacation destinations. What I don’t get is the timing of opening routes into ski markets just as the slopes are closing. I guess the regulatory delay was an issue.

    What I would like to see if F9 leveraging the Q400s on some longer, formerly Airbus routes. If fuel is killing everyone, then the efficiency of the Q400 would a major competitive advantage. I would put up with a slightly longer flight to either save money or even to avoid United-what new fee can we come up with-Airlines.

  7. Frontier’s growth and development was the best thing that happened to our city 10 years ago when DEN was a UAL fortress hub. To get to Orange County I was buying hidden city (paper) tickets from ABQ or Kansas City – which were over $150 cheaper then DEN-SNA.

    I have a couple friends who have been FAs on Frontier or worked ops – and they have all said its a great/positive place to work. They have a modern fleet, the easiest to access concourse (in spread out DEN,) and excellent community participation here.

    If they don’t sink hopefully they can get more recognition outside of DEN – or at least try for the umpteenth time. I still answer posts on travel boards when folks ask “I bought a ticket on Fronter… they any good?”

    Even though my miles are on UAL I fly them whenever price/schedule merit and would choose them over Southwest.

    also I agree with John M. EIGHT flights a day? Even to the biggest cities four work great: morning, noon, afternoon, and late evening. Period. Eight flights a day is worthless if they’re all late or half cancelled.

  8. As wierd as it seems, I can’t help but wonder how these agressive moves are being received by Southwest employees. Here is an airline that has preached company culture since day one; The same company culture, I might add, that was built on being the little guy fighting against the big mean airlines trying to run it out of business. Now they’re the big guy trying to run the little guy out of business.

    Don’t get me wrong, I understand the nature of competition in this industry and fully understand what SWA stands to gain. What I’m curious about is what the employees think of their company’s cross to the self-defined “dark side.”

  9. Dude you’re just repeating the same crap that Jamie Baker goes off on. Have you read the head-to-head numbers of Frontier vs. Southwest? Passengers? Yield? Load Factor? Average Fare? Market Share? Clearly you haven’t & you’re just copying what a handful of east coast industry speculators have been saying for (2) years. Frontier beats Southwest head-to-head in nearly every market and in every category.

    If you don’t believe me, go read this post by Mike Boyd. He lays out the most recent head-to-head numbers. Look for the post dated Monday, April, 14.

    That said, clearly Frontier has issues. But to simply blame Southwest and Frontier’s inability to compete is ignorant. And you’ve worked in the airline business. Shame on you.

  10. Not to be rude but isn’t this just parroting what’s in the mainstream media? That is, Frontiers problems are due to SWA. This despite UAL having an enormous presence at DIA and continuing to insist on flying planes that are bleeding money just to hold on to marketshare. Ya, UAL is losing money but had they made some drastic moves like they probably should’ve done a years ago and slashed capacity across the board 25%, how much more breathing room would that have given Frontier?

  11. Bob/Allen – Let me explain my rationale a bit further so that you don’t think I’m just copying what everyone else says.

    The bottom line is that Frontier needs cash. They’ve burnt through what they had, and now they are at unacceptable levels. That’s why they’re in bankruptcy. Sure, the credit card holdback increase pushed them into bankruptcy sooner than they otherwise would have, but it likely would have happened eventually. So, they need to find someone who is willing to give them cash.

    It doesn’t matter who might be hurting whom in Denver. The point is that Frontier is losing money, and if they go away, Southwest is proving that it will be more than happy to replace them. Again, it doesn’t matter who is hurting whom.

    If I’m an investor, I don’t see why I would put my money into this airline. Even if all Boyd’s numbers are right, they’re still losing money. So, if Sean Menke has some grand plan up his sleeve (and from what I hear, he really knows his stuff), then he might be able to sway someone to invest. If not, then there’s nothing compelling for an investor.

  12. Allen – Oops, forgot to comment on your last question. I really don’t know how well off Frontier would be had United shrunk more in Denver. Had that happened, other airlines may have seen some greater opportunity and decided to move in earlier. I’m just not sure.

  13. Boyd’s data is somewhat misleading, in that it makes no comparisons to historical data. It simply shows the 3Q 2007 numbers. Without any perspective to those numbers, ie change in market share, difference in average fare, etc, they don’t do much to show what impact Southwest has had on the markets.

    A somewhat more detailed description of market performance in Denver was done by member TxAgKuwait, where market share was compared between 1Q and 3Q 2007, with added information regarding total passenger numbers and average fare for all non-stop carriers on certain markets, and not just the three airlines Boyd looks at in his chart.

    You can read the post here:

  14. Cranky, that is the worst graphic you’ve done in awhile, lol. It shows Frontier as Sub-Zero about to “finish” Southwest (as Cage… erm… a dinosaur) and having won 2 battles already.

    Well, I’m hoping the BDL-DEN flight in July I got for my boss doesn’t get cancelled secondary to going out of business…

  15. Benji – You’re right, it was terrible, but so are most of my graphics! Too bad I don’t still have a game system to make a screenshot of my own. I believe Hartford goes away after the summer, so you’ll definitely have to hope nothing changes before then.

  16. CF –> I agree that in terms of Frontiers future it doesn’t matter what’s causing it so much as that it’s happening. But why imply that it’s SWA? That’s where the debate lies. It’s one thing to question Frontier’s future. It’s another to say SWA is the cause. Of course some of us cranky commenters are going to dispute that claim.

  17. Allen – I’m all for opposing opinions from cranky commenters as long as they’re respectful. So please, keep it coming.

    It’s a fair point that Southwest has not solely been responsible for Frontier’s demise, but without Southwest, there’s still a compelling case for a low fare carrier in Denver. They would have an easier time getting financing without Southwest.

    Now, whether or not Southwest is actually responsible, it seems pretty clear to me that they are trying to go in for the kill. Would you agree?

  18. Good point on how SWA’s growing presence could be impacting Frontier’s ability to get financing and more so on the cost of it.

  19. this sucks now i have to get on to trade my frontier mileage for peanuts rather than lose it all when they shut down

  20. The trouble with comparing Southwest’s O&D yields with Frontier is that Frontier has more connecting traffic, so therefore its RASM on the segment level may indeed be lower than Southwest.

    Basically I think F9 is totally doomed. Everything they have done to try and diversify away from Southwest hasn’t worked, and there simply isn’t room for them to keep playing in DEN.

    Southwest is growing in Denver because growing in its more established markets would have greater cannibalization on their network. Clearly Southwest is “on the fence” about parking 22 planes because if F9 liquidates they are going to swoop into DEN.

    I don’t see why anyone would want to buy the lagging player at a competitive hub. Too bad it’s turned out this way, but it’s hard to deny the reality.

  21. I just booked some flights on Frontier and I am especially lucky that Denver is their hub, as thats my “hometown” (even though I’m located elsewhere). I can’t say enough how wonderful their employees are and how they really put the customer first, well over most other airlines. I really hope that they can get out of their rut and make it, because they definitely are an underdog I’d be happy to cheer for.

    When it comes to Southwest v. UAL v. Frontier, unless Frontier decides to give me $900 tickets, I will choose them any day! I like choosing my seats before departure (though half of them are reserved for check-in so I get put in the back) and I really like the inexpensive TV systems that allow passengers sitting near my 4 year old to have peace and quiet! And I like their timeliness, almost every flight I’ve had has gotten to its destination before we were due at the gate.

    Granted, I don’t fly often, but when I do, its nice to have Frontier Airlines.

  22. If southwest wins this war the people of denver will pay the price, the airline is the mainline version of mesa with cheep fares until they have a strong hold and recently busted by the FAA for poor maintenance. Frontier is a home town airline that employs our neighbors we need to keep them here and run southwest out. Fly frontier

  23. I agree with bob Southwest has had 25 incidents in the last ten years with a fatality Frontier has had only 11 incidents with zero fatalities. I have friends in the aviation industry and they tell me that Southwest pilots are considered cowboys. Pre 911 the pilots who couldn’t get a job at a good airline went to southwest because no one else wanted them. I think I will stick with Frontier as well.

    1. If you’re going to spam the blog, I’d suggest that you post from different IP addresses. Instead, now we know it’s just the same person.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Cranky Flier