Frontier Brackets Philly With Wilmington Flights


Back in the day, Southwest was known for using a bracketing strategy around big cities. For example, it served Manchester to get the northern half of Boston and Providence to get the southern half. It did the same in Chicago with Midway and Milwaukee. That strategy disappeared when Southwest started moving into big cities directly, but Frontier apparently likes the plan and is now trying the same thing in Philadelphia.

Frontier Brackets Philly

Frontier recently decided to build up a good little operation in Trenton. Now, it is going to start flying into Wilmington, Delaware. This is the first commercial service to Delaware since Delta pulled out a few years back.

Starting July 1, Frontier will begin flying from Wilmington to 5 cities:

  • Chicago/Midway – 3x per week
  • Denver – 4x per week
  • Houston/Intercontinental – 3x per week
  • Orlando – 2x per week
  • Tampa – 2x per week

Is this a good idea? It very well could be. Traditional airlines don’t fly to Wilmington because of just how close it is to Philly. It’s only 26 miles down I-95 from the Philly Airport. Since the other airlines already have good service to Philly, Wilmington would only make sense if it could generate a premium on small airplanes with lower frequencies. It hasn’t worked out yet.

But Frontier wants it for the opposite reason. It cut Philly completely last year when it continued to remake its network as an ultra low cost carrier. Now it has low fares and infrequent flights out of Trenton on the north side of Philly and it wants to do the same out of Wilmington in the south.

For Frontier, Wilmington might just work because people will travel for measurably lower fares. But right now, there are people around Wilmington who already travel for any fare… to Philly. So you can now look at people living in the southern part of Philly, northern Delaware, and northeast Maryland as potential targets to use the service.

Northeast Maryland? Surely they just drive to Baltimore and fly Southwest from there, right? Well, a lot do but remember, Southwest isn’t that cheap anymore. This target market is more likely looking to Baltimore or Philly in order to fly Spirit these days. For those who find Wilmington more convenient, this will be an easy choice. But even for those who don’t prefer Wilmington, they may still make the trip, because Spirit doesn’t serve any of these cities nonstop from Philly or Baltimore.

Even if they did, there might be room for both airlines to offer ultra low fares in an area packed with population. And hey, maybe they’ll end up being one airline in the end anyway. After all, Indigo Partners and Anchorage Capital are both apparently in the running to take over Frontier. Those names sound familiar? They’ve both been involved with Spirit.

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26 comments on “Frontier Brackets Philly With Wilmington Flights

  1. Indigo Partners? I think they have a good reputation. They would probably combine the thing with Spirit, keep the Frontier brand name but the Spirit product.

    Unfortunate but will have to happen.

  2. I share the optimism but worry about the Allegiant like frequencies making it tough to build a regular customer base. Prices will have to make it worthwhile.

    Catchment area is interesting because there is a lot of South Jersey that can get to Wilmington more easily than PHL. You also mentioned NE Maryland and I think that is a very big potential draw; most of Baltimore’s suburbs are to the north while BWI is south of downtown. Finally, those in the West and SW Philly suburbs that aren’t motivated to traverse the entire Philly metro area in order to get to Trenton might be tempted by a much shorter and less traffic congested trip to Wilmington.

  3. I can see DEN/TPA/MCO, but what does Frontier have going in IAH where this falls in line with their other service? Or could it just be because UA/US fly PHL-IAH and they think three flights a week will get budget minded people away from higher priced UA/US?

  4. Brett,

    As a native of Bryn Mawr-PA, I can almost guarente the folks in this area, also known as the mainline, will not bother with this, and will continue to use PHL. I can’t imagine folks in other wealthy suburbs of Phila. will schlep down to Wilmington. The drive SUCKS from Philadelphia to Wilmington; not to mention the Delaware cops who sit right on the border and constant traffic accidents on the way.

    The commute from S. Jersey to Wilmington stinks, plus you drive by PHL on your way down to the first state. Why not just take your business to ACY and save the hassle? or pay the extra bucks and stop at PHL?

    That leaves MD folks. Maybe that will be the answer for Frontier. But as a native Philadelphian, I highly doubt this will be a long term hit. We hate I-95 and all the back roads that take us to Delaware. We hate out of the way stuff, and basically we hate everything……… Good luck Frontier.

    1. Never really thought of I-95/495/295 as ‘backroads.’ They can get backed up during rush hours, but the story is the same in any major city.

      I don’t think Frontier is depending on wealthy suburbanites to be successful.

      I can guarantee there are budget conscious travelers living in the Main Line area.

      You also forgot about the 900,000 people that live in Delaware. Most of which live within an hour of Wilmington.

      Not saying its guaranteed to be a smashing success, but I think they have a good shot if implemented properly.

    2. Pat,

      Couldn’t disagree more. I live in Downingtown (which to be fair, unlike you is pretty much equidistant from PHL and New Castle). That being said as someone who flies routinely to Denver it’s a very decent option. There’s a little comedy involved as the airport is so tiny, you may have to park in front of an out of business Damon’s Ribs (for free), and the baggage area is a 10 foot hallway with a window that a guy throws bags through one by one…but that being said? I had to book a trip to Denver a week out and only paid around $200 bucks. I’ll trade that anyday for “missing” the $60 parking tab at PHL in the economy lot, the long security lines and airfare quite a bit more than 200 bucks.

  5. This strategy could potentially work if there was high speed rail that served some of these airports- otherwise, as some previous posters have brought up, it looks good on a map but logistically it is a nightmare trying to drive between those places in rush hour.

  6. I think Pat is a little off base. I live in New Castle County and a lot of people I work with are in South Jersey and northeastern MD and are excited by not having to make the drive to PHL octet don’t have to. Maybe mainliners will stick with Philly but I can’t explain them. I wish them luck.

  7. Interesting place, well, sort of, that Wilminington, Delaware. Population around 70,000, 25-30 miles to Philly, really a satellite of Philly. Wonderful train service to the Northeast and to DC.

    Dupont, credit card companies everywhere, and what company isn’t the incorporated under the laws of Delaware. But,…

    Growing up less than 50 from Wilmington, I don’t recall anyone ever saying they were going to, or even wanted to go to Wilmington, for anything. Philly, yes, Baltimore, yes, but not to Wilmington.

    The air travel delays into and out of Philly International are real, but would Wilmington be all that different? The airspace around that area is really a mess.

    To Frontier, lots of luck!

    1. Don’t forget the U. of Delaware nearby Newark, DE (Alma Mater of a certain Superbowl MVP and and VPOTUS).

      Blue Hen pride aside, I think there is a draw for those who want to avoid parking expense and delays at PHL. And the DEN connection, (not possible due to runway length at TTN) may draw vacationers going south and west.

  8. Seems some commenters sense of DE/PA/Jersey geography is a little sketchy. ILG lies south of Wilmington- those driving from PA will cut around Wilmington congestion via 495. Those coming from MD are looking at less than 10 miles (or less if you work around the toll) through DE on 95. ILG sits less than 4 miles from the foot of the Delaware Memorial Bridge; for many folks in SJ, it means getting on 295 and crossing the bridge-there will be no need to pass PHL in order to get down to ILG. You guys mean to tell me driving on 76, 676, the Platt Bridge or 95 are all a piece of cake but 495 is asking too much?

    As far as Frontier being successful at ILG, its certainly a much different product than what DL offered most recently. Florida-bound leisure travelers in DE, NJ and NE Maryland will probably find this service to be more convenient and probably a money saver over PHL service from US and WN. Those routes will do fine.

    Brett, will F9 still run charter service from PHL or is that kaput?

    1. Cooper – Oh, I don’t know about the charters. Are they still running those for Apple Vacations? If so, those will probably stay.

  9. There’s a lot of talk about how nobody will drive from certain parts of this area or that, but it’s very important to remember that we’re talking about very little capacity here. They don’t need a lot of people to drive. They really just need a few people to NOT drive to Philly from the surrounding area. The bar is not very high to make this work.

    1. What did you think about the destinations and frequencies? I found IAH odd, especially at a frequency higher than either MCO or TPA. MDW is probably a little outside the box as well considering most of the ultra low cost destinations are usually based on sun and/or fun.

      1. Bill – I think Midway works. It’s just a big city and there are a lot of people going between the Philly and Chicago metro areas. If they can skim a little off the top…

        I don’t know about Houston. Maybe they’re just floating a trial balloon. Or maybe there’s something between the two cities that we just aren’t realizing.

        1. Midway appears to be doing well from TTN.

          ILG-IAH is the most interesting one to me, in the same way that MSY was from TTN when everything else was Florida.

          But I believe the “anchor” route will be DEN-ILG, replacing Frontier’s DEN-PHL, which had a very loyal following.

          I assume the low MCO/TPA frequencies are because of the August/September drop-off in Florida traffic, and I won’t fall over in shock if they beef ’em up in winter.

  10. I think this has potential to work at the margins; meaning as Cranky points out – the bar is pretty low for success -they can skim a little off the top to select destinations. I think they could get some of the Maryland traffic now flying through BWI, but again, it will have a marginal effect. I have passed through the Wilmington area hundreds of times and can’t even picture the airport. It must not be that large or substantial. As Cranky point out, if the fares are low enough, it will attract some that would normally use PHL or BWI. Look for Spirit to beef up service at BWI and prevent some of the leakage that may take place early on. They implied when they transferred operations from DCA that service will be increased there.

    Bill from DC – I wouldn’t say most of the Baltimore area is north of the city. It is spread out around the city in a circle, with substantial BWI traffic coming from south and west.

    And even from the northern and eastern suburbs, Wilmington is about equidistant to BWI (not accounting for traffic). It is going to take rock bottom fares for them to drive up to Wilmington.

  11. I don’t think Frontier’s new service will work in its current form. The Wilmington airport, while a lackluster facility, is reasonably convenient for a significant number of people. Basically, it’s got the pros and cons of any small, ancient and underutilized airport. It’s biggest drawback is that it’s under the same ATC jurisdiction as PHL. I remember during DL’s brief history at ILG having a ground stop there because the skies were too crowded, even though we were the only airplane waiting to take off.

    What I don’t understand is Frontier’s strategy of having two or three flights A WEEK to various destinations. Doesn’t this guarantee you the absolute lowest yields — even among leisure travellers? I would think Frontier would do better picking 2 destinations and flying there regularly. Like 2x daily to Orlando and 1x daily to Denver (because of their hub). I don’t understand TPA at all; they should definitely do FLL instead. And IAH will be a stone cold loser.

  12. I think its going to be a success. I have talked to a few people who have booked from ILG already. Delaware is ready for this, I applaud Frontier for being unique and thinking outside the box, its perfect. I’m just hoping in time they add destinations like FLL and a hop to BOS. Those also have a decent chance to see revenues with LOTS of people in the area going there. The DEN flights are going to be well received too. We will be able to get to California, Washington via DEN, and if marketed correctly could do REAL well.

  13. I’m a lurker, so here goes. I’m a finance guy at a Delaware company who looked at doing a new turboprop airline with industry and capital people based at New Castle Airport. People to/from Philadelphia wouldn’t use it, but research showed a catchment area of business and pleasure fliers in a four-state area. There are more wealthy folks in and near Wilmington than most suburban areas in the U.S. and is near a host of road and rail routes. You can see the bridge to New Jersey from the airport ramp. While DE and U of D were made fun of on The Simpsons and The Cleveland Show respectively, the corporate and legal business done in New Castle County is over-sized and that disposable wealth supports many quality restaurants, shopping, hotels, nightlife, and other attractions. People commute from Elkton and West Chester while others drive from Paoli and Cherry Hill for shopping. Knowing both this and that the same people use the Amtrak station here, I got motivated to look at air service with serious analysis and money. Most people that keened on my elevator speech about this, however, have had another motive: Philadelphia International and US Airways suck. They are inconvenient embarrassments, especially when we have people fly in from Canada and Germany. Our group has had a number of involved professional people, and during the last few quarters, we’ve become big enough to be one angel investor or funding push away from incorporating and flying. My vision, not totally shared among us, was to buy a used ATR42, fix it up, fly it once a day to someplace and back, and add more trips, planes, and routes as needed with all fixed-base operations in cheap-for-the-Northeast Delaware. Long thin routes with lower fuel costs than jets from Wilmington on short haul could take just 2 percent of business from the new American Airlines (save us) nonstop service from Philadelphia with 20 percent better return on investment. This all really could have worked. I’m mad that Frontier has beaten us to it, but wish them the best and will fly with them to Chicago. I hope they also fly from here to Boston, Atlanta, Charlotte, and/or Detroit. Thanks for covering this, Cranky.

  14. Maybe people forget that New Castle County itself has about $600k people, and that people in NE MD, Chester County, PA, the rest of the state, and South Jersey would rather not drive in and deal with Philadelphia.

    Philly gets a ton of its success on the outlying areas. Drive to PHL and count all the DE and MD plates at departures.

  15. Brilliant idea to fly from wilm to Orlando. That in itself should keep a steady flow of people flying out of Delaware. I know several families including ours who got round trip tickets for a family of 4 for just over 400.00 total. To fly PHL to Orlando is running around 1000.00 for a family of 4. I’m sure there are people who will make the drive from several areas to delaware to save 600.00. It’s a no brainer…. Simple! Can’t wait to fly over my home state!

  16. From my research and from many people who have tried Frontier out of Wilmington this summer and fall, they just absolutely LOVE it, and hope they stay.
    My wish is for them to add Fort Lauderdale and Boston, nonstop from Wilmington. Never say never!!

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