The folks at Frontier announced their summer schedule yesterday, and there are a whopping 7 new cities joining the Frontier network. You know what they have in common? Not a single one of them is served by Southwest. Ah, very smart.
Here’s the list of newbies:
- Branson (Missouri)
- Grand Rapids (Michigan)
- Green Bay (Wisconsin)
- Long Beach (California)
- Madison (Wisconsin)
- Newport News (Virginia)
- Santa Barbara (California)
As you can see, not only are these not served by Southwest currently, but it’s highly unlikely that Southwest will start serving them any time soon. That’s a good strategy. And it won’t surprise you to know these are all being served by Embraer 190s. Those planes provide much greater comfort than the Bombardier regional jets that United flies on some of these routes and they’re much smaller than anything Southwest operates.
Long Beach is obviously the most exciting to me personally. Six slots were raffled off and Frontier picked up two. Allegiant also picked up two, and I find myself wondering what the heck they’re going to do with them (if anything) while SkyWest and JetBlue picked up one a piece. Southwest certainly won’t be coming in to Long Beach, though United could use commuter slots if they really wanted to fight Frontier.
Branson is the other really interesting one to me. When I visited those guys in 2008, Denver was one of the big markets they identified as being important to them. Sure enough, they’ve found their Denver entrant, the only flight that goes west from the new airport. It’s only operating four days a week for now, and I think it’s a good test. Even better, I know Branson has no qualms about offering exclusivity, so there’s no threat of competition coming in if it works out, at least not for awhile.
Newport News may seem kind of goofy, but I imagine there’s a fair bit of traffic on Lockheed Martin alone between the two cities. It just might work with all the military stuff going on there.
Grand Rapids, Madison, and Santa Barbara already see service from United Express, but that clearly doesn’t concern Frontier, and for good reason. They’re looking at different flight times and sometimes superior aircraft.
Grand Rapids sees a single daily Embraer 170 from United Express. Frontier will run it once a day at opposite times, so it provides a good balance. The equipment is basically the same on the inside, but the different times should help this out.
Madison and Santa Barbara are different. United flies Madison three times a day, but two of those are on cramped 50 seat CRJs and one is on an only slightly less cramped CRJ-700. That’s two long hours on those little tubes. Santa Barbara is similiar although it only sees two flights a day. So now Frontier can come in with one a day to Madison and two a day to Santa Barbara and provide a much better experience for a two hour flight.
They really are focusing on the onboard experience here, which is funny because they still haven’t addressed the fact that the onboard experience is much different on the Airbus aircraft with LiveTV than on the Embraers without. Why do I say they’re focusing on the onboard experience? The new routes are only part of the change here. They are also getting rid of their turboprops entirely – Lynx is toast. Yes, the 11 Q400s will go away and they will be replaced by either Embraer 190s or the smaller Embraer 170, something that hasn’t been seen flying out of the Denver hub yet. In the process, both Fargo (North Dakota) and Tulsa will lose Frontier flying completely.
Why are they doing that? In their words, “The transition to jet service will improve the Company’s ability to operate in highly contested markets in which the Q400 operates at a competitive disadvantage to jet service offered by competitors.” My guess is that they couldn’t find enough profitable markets in the West and figured the fleet was so small, they might as well just kill it off instead of trying to port it around the country looking for markets. Too bad. I like that plane.
They are also getting rid of their 7 orphan CRJ aircraft. They fly a boatload of Embraer regional jets, but they had this once 24-strong CRJ fleet buzzing around for Continental for awhile. It’s now down to 7, and there’s no reason to keep that either, so they can now unload one certificate (Lynx) and two aircraft types.
Lots of changes here, and I like what I see. Adding those non-Southwest competitive markets will not only strengthen the fares they get onboard the local flights, but it will also help with the mix on the flights to big cities. It will help them fight Southwest by not fighting Southwest. See, the more flights they have in these smaller markets, the more flights they can support in the larger ones even with the competition.
This is really the closest I’ve seen to a low cost carrier operating a true hub and spoke model. They have the large markets covered, and now they’re looking at the smaller ones. United should be concerned. I look forward to seeing their response.
*Original Frontier Airbus photo via Flickr.
*I recently began a short term social media consulting stint with Long Beach Airport (full disclosure and all). It’s noted on my code of ethics page.