Many Carriers Have Failed at Washington/Dulles But Frontier’s Effort is Different


When Frontier announced it would be opening a focus city at Washington’s Dulles Airport, skeptics laughed. Low cost carriers and Dulles don’t mix. The graveyard is full of failed efforts, so why would anyone want to try it? Well, what Frontier is doing is different than what the others have done before and the timing is better. I think this is a worthwhile effort.

Frontier to Dulles

Before we get into the comparisons to past failures, let’s talk about what exactly Frontier is doing. The airline is going to be starting 14 routes from Dulles. The first group starts the week of August 19, and the ramp-up is done by the middle of September. This might sound like the airline is popping up a hub overnight, but it’s not that big. No route will see more than one flight per day.

Of course, this will be run on the ultra low fare model that Frontier has adopted, but low fares aren’t the only thing attractive about this service. Frontier will operate off the Z gates, the ones attached to the main terminal. That means no mobile lounges or underground trains to get to far away gates. Oh, and these gates are actually pretty nice, especially compared to what United runs from its decrepit “temporary” midfield terminal.

Here are the cities that will gain service.

  • Atlanta – 6 per week
  • Charlotte – 5 per week
  • Chicago/O’Hare – 6 per week
  • Cincinnati – 4 per week
  • Detroit – 6 per week
  • Ft Lauderdale – 4 per week
  • Ft Myers – 4 per week
  • Las Vegas – 4 per week
  • Memphis – 4 per week
  • Minneapolis/St Paul – 6 per week
  • Orlando – Daily
  • St Augustine (FL) – 5 per week
  • St Louis – 3 per week
  • Tampa – 4 per week

That’s a good mix of big city routes and strong leisure destinations. If you didn’t see the frequencies being operated, you might think this was a suicidal invasion of United’s turf. But it’s not. As mentioned, no route is operated more than once per day, and only one, Orlando, operates that often. You can’t even count on a regular schedule with times shifting each day, as required to keep airplanes flying and costs low.

For example, that key United hub-to-hub route of Dulles to O’Hare? On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays it leaves Dulles at 7a but on Tuesdays and Thursdays it leaves at 445p. Saturdays? It leaves at 150p. This is not a business schedule. It’s sort of like running Allegiant’s schedule on a Spirit-style network.

Spirit doesn’t have a lot of frequencies in the markets it flies, but it does tend to keep times consistent. And it will often have a couple flights per day to give a little more coverage. It prefers big city markets that have room for lower fares, like what Frontier is doing. Allegiant, on the other hand, picks markets mostly with no competition. It varies times greatly depending upon what fits the operation. Frontier is looking like an interesting hybrid.

I know, I’m talking about this and have yet to mention the “I” word. Independence. Everyone remember Independence Air? For those who don’t, this long-dead airline used to be United Express-partner Atlantic Coast Airlines (ACA). ACA and United couldn’t come to terms on a new regional flying deal, so those running ACA decided to go out on their own. It was a really, really bad idea.

Fortunately for Frontier, these two airlines are absolutely nothing alike. Independence had a big old fleet of 50-seat jets that it thought would be great for a low-cost operation. Yeah, right. It tried to maintain the frequencies it flew when it operated as United Express, but United found new regional partners to step in and fill the void under the United Express banner. That meant each market had twice the capacity it had before, and of course, United fought Independence like crazy. It matched fares, offered frequent flier promotions, and simply refused to let Independence up for air. People loved Independence for lowering fares, but they chose United at those fares so they could earn miles.

I think my favorite example of the insanity at Independence was Lansing, Michigan. I can’t remember exactly, but it was something like 7 daily flights in that market. Crazy. Eventually Independence did get some A319s and started longer haul flying. That might have had a better shot at success, but the airline was too saddled with junk. It was toast.

Since that time, several airlines have tried a build-up at Dulles. JetBlue had big plans when it started, but it has done nothing but shrink there. By the end of this year, it will be down to 4 daily flights to Boston and 2 to JFK. That’s it. Virgin America also seemed like it might be interested, but it hasn’t grown beyond its LAX and San Francisco flights. What happened?

Well, a lot of things. First, both Virgin America and JetBlue have been able to get improved access to Washington/National. That has always been the prize for airlines that want to attract the business traveler. And both JetBlue and Virgin America may act like low fare carriers, but they really want to grow their share of the corporate market these days.

Even in leisure markets, JetBlue has found better traction at highly-restricted National. On the other hand, there’s Spirit. Spirit left National for Baltimore because National was too expensive and Spirit couldn’t build a more efficient operation there due to slot constraints. With Spirit in Baltimore, that left more opportunity for a true low fare carrier down in Northern Virginia.

Sure, many people around the District may choose to fly out of National, but there is a huge and growing population that prefers Dulles. I have a good friend from college who lives in Fairfax and takes her husband and daughter to see her family in Chicago. They used to love Independence for the low fares, and my guess is that they’ll flock to Frontier as well. That’s the kind of traveler Frontier wants.

But won’t United try to crush Frontier like a bug, as it did with Independence? I’d be surprised. Unlike Independence, Frontier is coming in with a clearly leisure-oriented schedule that’s not going to appeal to United’s business traveler base. And United is feeling a lot of heat right now from Wall St. It isn’t performing nearly as well as the other guys, and there’s a lot of pressure to increase revenues. An overblown attack in some pretty big markets would hurt that effort a lot. It would also be ridiculed. Besides, United has bigger issues in Washington right now, including the loss of US Airways as a Star Alliance partner. It should be worried about its base, not a fringe carrier.

I would think that we’d see a response similar to what we see United doing to Spirit in Chicago. Not much.

The question is simple. Are there enough people in the general vicinity around Dulles who want cheap fares? Probably. Will they fly Frontier? Possibly. Can Frontier get its costs low enough to be profitable at the fares it can sell? I guess we’ll find out. But Frontier’s effort is different than what we’ve seen before, and I’m fairly bullish on it.

[Dulles photo By Ad Meskens (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( via Wikimedia Commons, Frontier aircraft photo By Magic Aviation [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons]

53 comments on “Many Carriers Have Failed at Washington/Dulles But Frontier’s Effort is Different

  1. What’s the deal with O’Hare? DEN, TTN, ILG, MDT and TYS all go to Midway. Why the oddball operation at ORD?

    1. Frontier does serve ORD as an apple vacation charter. From what I understand, flight used to re-position from MDW. Perhaps this is a more efficient flow with this new schedule.

    2. Rumor is that they have been in negotiations with AA for the two gates they are required to divest at ORD.

    3. James Burke – I’m with Noah on this. I bet it’s about improving utilization of existing aircraft. Apple decides where those airplanes go, so Frontier should fill it in the best they can.

      B757capt – I believe AA is simply turning those gates over to O’Hare, so it would be up to the airport to let Frontier use them.

  2. I live in Lansing, Mich and remember Independence at the airport, I think at one time they may have had as many as 11 flights a day to Washington (not sure on that) anyway it was unsustainable and made no sense.

    We now have Sun Country doing one flight a day to Reagan National six days a week, that was a hard fought battle over the landing slots and involved a lot of behind the scenes politics to get it. A more reasonable flight schedule for the size of the market.

  3. What suprised me in the annoucement-no flight(s) to DEN. I think that supports Cranky’s assesment that UA won’t do much about this. The Z gates-they’re nice and just a short walk from the terminal. As for describing UA’s gates as decrepit-you’re being nice Cranky-they are a slum, not to mention you have a haul in an underground tunnel ftrom the train station to the gates.

  4. While F9 made a smart move by grabbing some Z gates, they may have a marketing issue on their hands. I’m not sure how many people are familiar with them, I sure am not. (And I live 7 miles from the airport.) A/B/C/D? Yup, I know those. And I associate them with all being a pain in the ass to get to. While the Z gates might save some time, they still have to share the central security piers that all of the terminals do. It’s one of the reasons I hate IAD. (The only reason I like it is it’s a $20 cab ride. DCA is $65.)

    So for F9 to be successful at this, they’re going to have turn up the marketing in high gear. Make it clear that the Z gates save an extra ride and a lot of walking, and see what they can do with off peak scheduling to ensure that TSA times are predictable and short. (Nothing like rolling through there for the 5pm bank.)

    1. i think people will discover the convenience of the Z gates once they have flown. it probably won’t be a competitive differentiator at first but might help them attract repeat business. i think they will be happy to market this service to the general public on price, price and price.

      CF/others – did US give up the Z gates to move out with AA? did they still have their service on Z? they did when i flew US out of IAD last but, living in the district, i try to make that as infrequently as possible.

      1. As of last month when I did my monthly bag drag to DEN, US was still on Z. I guess they will move out to B to be with AA, but with 5 gates on Z, and US only flying 6 flights a day to CLT, I don’t think crowding would be an issue

      2. Bill From DC – I can only assume that US is moving in with AA out in Terminal B, so that would mean that the Z gates were available at the right time for Frontier to swoop in.

    2. Dan – I think you’re right about the marketing issue, but they made quite a splash with this big announcement and $15 fares. It might take some time to educate, but Frontier is sold on all the main online travel agents, so people will find them when they look for a cheap vacation. I really don’t think the Z gates need to be a big part of the marketing effort here. Convenience is nice, but it’ll be more about fares.

  5. CF,

    Re: ACA/Independence Air. I worked for ACA prior to the Indy days, and the one thing I can say I learned from all of that is that regional airline flying isn’t a sustainable long term endeavor. ACA’s problem wasn’t that they “couldn’t come to terms” on a new contract so to speak, but more so that UA wanted to ditch their contract during bankruptcy.

    Regional flying is pretty cuthroat, and it’s pretty easy to find someone else to do the flying cheaper. Never mind it’s the same pilots doing it with a different name on the paycheck for significantly less than what they were making at their old gig, but it is what it is.

    ACA was between a rock and a hard place — give it a shot on their own, or get jerked around by UA. I actually have a lot of respect for their management for giving UA the finger. If things would have worked out differently, they would have been able to have kept their original terms with UA and everybody would have said “wow what a smart move.” So damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

    Whether or not my analysis is entirely accurate, well, it was first hand experience and why I make my living not directly on an airline payroll. (And certainly not on a seniority system basis.)

    1. Dan – I can guarantee you that regional flying would have been far more sustainable in the long term than the Independence operation was.

      As you say, regionals can be replaced. Standing up for the cause won’t get airlines anywhere but to the graveyard. Same thing goes for employees who stand up for the cause at airlines like Comair and now American Eagle/Envoy (I think Republic is somewhat different). That flying will go away. I don’t think anyone in the regional world likes that, but it’s how it works.

      1. I would disagree. The point of the increased focus on wages in regional flying IS to force airlines to either expand the mainline fleet or to force a level playing field through pattern bargaining. Regional’s are a rather small group as far as being able to meet the demands of the major’s in frequency and planes, so if pattern bargaining does not lift up wages and simply leads to cuts, main-line operations will expand and lead to expansion of jobs for pilots anyways. Now the likelihood is this will not necessarily be a one to one replacement for regional pilots, but it does offer the best opportunity for movement upwards, especially when considering the retirements and the new wage/rest rules.

        1. Sean S – That may be the point, but there are always people who are willing to fly for less. The new pilot rules make that more of an issue in the short term, but it will calm when the market has had time to adjust.

          1. That used to be true, but as they say, past performance is no guarantee of future success.

            The barriers to entry for the aspiring pilot are much higher with the increased costs of flight training. Also, with a generation of deregulated airline flying under our belts, we have a much clearer understanding of the industry.

            It used to be that you could fly for fun and then say “oh crap I can turn this into a career.” But when flight time costs north of $120/hr, you already have to be successful in another career to be able to afford it.

            So there’s a couple of things going on in the market, and it’s hard to predict how it will shake out. I have about $20,000 worth of flight time under my belt, all accrued before 9/11. I can’t imagine paying more than double that and then telling myself that starting out at $20k/yr in an unstable industry is a winning career proposition.

            1. Dan – Well if we’re talking about ACA/Independence, then this is all about past performance. If you’re talking specifically about a pilot shortage, then I remain convinced that subsidizing training will fix any issue. They won’t need to touch wages.

      2. More sustainable doesn’t necessarily mean anything though. The whole business is cyclical — whatever gains you win today you will lose tomorrow. At the major airline, you get them in the form of pay cuts and concessionary contracts. At the regional, you get them in the form of outright losing your contract and having it awarded to the next bidder.

        The regionals just happen to a be a dirtier business that don’t get as much media attention.

        You sort of made the point yourself — look how many regionals are getting dicked over, and you want to claim that it is a sustainable business?

  6. IIRC B6 was planning to gear up a significant IAD operation just about the same time that ACA/independence embarked on its kamikaze mission. wanting no part of the coming bloodshed, B6 put all their non-JFK apples in the BOS basket. would love to know what they would have done at IAD if not for that insanity. i was still surprised to see them take down the longtime LGB and OAK transcons especially without any real prospect of getting those restarted at DCA. at this point, they might as well not even be at IAD. and, while i’m glad B6 is expanding at DCA, BDL, CHS, NAS aren’t exactly frequent destinations for most. i would much rather have the transcons and the old LAS flight even if i had to trek to IAD to climb aboard.

    1. IAD still has a lot of potential for an airline like B6 or VX. Even with both of those grabbing extra slots at DCA, IAD has the opportunity to scale that DCA simply does not. The challenge is in achieving critical mass; and I don’t think splitting a relatively small operation between IAD and DCA makes a lot of sense.

      F9’s approach here seems reasonable and definitely has potential to work well. It might actually play in UA’s favor if additional traffic and landing fees help bring IAD’s costs down a bit – more business for MWAA helps make a new C/D concourse come a bit closer to reality.

      1. Alex B – Heck, to build on that, it could play in United’s favor by bringing low fares and attention to Dulles when lately all the focus has been on National and its new entrants. Of course, that means United has to play this right.

  7. I remember coming back home once on a SAN-IAD redeye operated by B6. That’s the only time I’ve flown B6 and it was great. Unfortunate that B6 couldn’t make anything work well at IAD.

    Apparently the A319’s that Independence got for the West Coast routes were doing well, it’s just the CASM on the 50 seaters doesn’t work as we all commonly know now.

    I understand that DEN-DCA is one of Frontier’s high-performing routes so that may be why DEN-IAD isn’t happening among other reasons. I think UA will respond to this IAD operation with some of those E175’s and double miles here. F9’s Early Returns program is a surprisingly good program that hasn’t been devalued like everyone else.

    1. Aaron – I’m not sure exactly what’s happening. The end of August and September are definitely low season for leisure routes, so there could be some slack in the system, especially with Apple Vacations. But I don’t know if other cuts are coming. Seems likely unless they acquire new airplanes.

      1. I don’t think big cuts are needed to fund this. With the sub-daily service and Frontier’s willingness to fly 15-18 hour days the Dulles flying should take about the equal of 3 aircraft. There are some routes flying this summer which are planned to end this fall, like DEN-MSO, MDW-MDT, MDW-TYS, CLE-SEA, etc and that frees up some lift. There are some frequency reductions at Denver here and there freeing up some lift. And I seem to recall…though don’t quote me on timing…that a couple of A320 are coming. It’s something of a mindset change to realize how many markets can be covered when you. only fly a few trips per week versus a classic business-frequency route at a banked hub.

  8. Too bad Frontier gave up their LGB slots a few years ago — LGB–IAD would have made sense now, especially with JetBlue dropping the route.

    1. Frontier would still be in LGB if it weren’t for their HORRIBLE schedule. From LGB to DEN they had a 0645 and an 1100. The 1100 was a turn, but it only ran 2 or 3 days a week. Unfortunately, since it was the turn, it was an 0830 dep from DEN, and the RON left DEN at about 1930. I could never get a morning flight into LGB, so I had to fly into LAX or SNA. If that morning turn ran at least 6 days a week, theeir loads would have been better.

  9. I agree with ALL of you about UA’s DECREPIT C and D concourse—I have asked over and over again to UA top management,about when a new C and D concourse will be built, AND NOT SURPRISED-NO ANSWER
    I am a 20yr employee of UA ,and LOVE IAD, but soooo ashamed of the C and D concourse
    I can only hope something is coming soon ,since the company built the new widebody hangar,to fix aircraft quickly and reduce delays
    also, UA-or realy UAX had a monopoly on the CVG-IAD route ,with no competition ,[DL stopped service,and only competes with the new AA-US to DCA],
    and has taken NO ACTON TO IMPROVE IT-with ugrading to 70-seat RJs ,with first class and economy-plus seating, AND offering more than 2 flghts a day–business travelers need morning flights as well as afternoon and evening
    The new Frontier service isnt realy much-one Mondy morning fllght, and the other three are one evening flght-only 4 flghts weelky / one Cincinnati business traveler said Frontier’s schedual is a joke,because it does not realy help the business flyer too much-
    I am a Cincinnati kid,having been born and raised there, and realy wish my airline, UA, would improve service there–the company took away the REAL UA IAM union employees ,with outsourced workers,who DONT GIVE A DAMN and is not upgrading the UAX-RJ aircraft ,with 70-76 seat RJs ,like the Embraer 170 and the new Embraer 175, and or atleast more Canadair 70 seaters
    I wish UA-UAX would increase CVG-IAD with at least adding 2 more flghts daily , 2 morning flghts–would realy love to see 3 more flghts added, to match the CVG-IAH service,which has 5 flghts daily
    AA and DL do not realy compete much with UA-UAX on the routes to our hubs, except AA ,on the CVG-ORD / DL does just a few flghts CVG-EWR ,reduced CVG-ORD , a few flghts CVG-IAH ,only 2 flghts CVG-DEN ,and no AA or DL service CVG-IAD—they do CVG-DCA / So I cannot understand why UA-UAX doesnt improve it’s UAX service from CVG to its 5 hubs they connect flyers to
    I dont expext B747-or-B777 service, but would love if REAL MAINLINE UA would come back with B737-700 and or ,yuck,the A319 aircraft,those are the right size planes for CVG to the 5 UA hubs ,and OUR REAL UA-IAM employees, who did great customer service and CARED
    CVG is a great airport—4 runways and NO CONGESTION, and UAX is in a new remodeled ,very nice concourse,with 4 easy gates ,in a square shape,right next to each other, with power outlets and wi-fi

    Delta is almost done dumping it as it’s now current smallest hub—soon it will be all gone as a hub ,and just left as a focus city or big station—-DL IS MAKING SEA IT’S NEW HUB ,and I will say again,going to try a takeover of Alaska Airlines……just watch
    THANKYOU and safe travels to all

    1. Frontier is not trying to replace Delta at Cincinnati. They’re just complementing Amtrak’s thrice weekly Cardinal…

    2. Not sure what/why the cheapshot reference is to the A319/320. For a passenger, you get 18″ seats vs. 17 or 17-1/2″ seats on the 737. The way Frontier has configured many of the rows on their Airbus aircraft, passengers can get up to 36″ of legroom versus 31-32″ in standard coach. Since the demise of Midwest Airlines and “Signature Seating” (first-class style seats and better than coach legroom), Frontier is my choice when I have to travel coach. (Now, if the complaint is about how United configures the A319/320 rather than the aircraft itself, that’s another story.)

    3. “one Cincinnati business traveler said Frontier’s schedual is a joke,because it does not realy help the business flyer too much-‘

      Frontier doesn’t generally schedule for the business travellers – they’re not the target market.

      Some business people do fly Frontier, generally those on a tight budget or even paying their own way, and they make the Frontier schedules work for them.

      If not, it if doesn’t work, there are other airlines.

  10. I was and am sorry that Independence Air did not make it. I flew Independence once; in 2005 PWM-IAD IAD-BNA and thought the inflight service was superior to anyone (for economy class) with the possible exception of Jet Blue.

  11. Everytime I take the mobile lounge to the D gates of UA’s “temporary” C/D terminal, when I get off, I am forever reminded of Hap Pareti’s Presidential Airlways hub opening up right there in front of me. American tried to cover over everthing, but the ghosts of airlines past are still there, at least for oldies like me.

    After Presidential’s demise, I, smart person that I am, bought some stock in Atlantic Coast/Independence Air and attended shareholder meetings with the nice/polite execs explaining how they were going to make a go of everything. You’ll be sorry, UA. The naivety of their presentations was astounding.

    And now, here comes Frontier. Of course, this isn’t Frontier’s entire opeation, but its press release “Low Fares and Friendly Service” sounds a little too giddy for me to take seriously. I wonder what the pitch was to the Dulles folks to get the Z gates, etc. I’ll bet there are airport operators across the country being reminded of Allegiant coming in and saying, “Such a Deal I Have for You.” Probably someone at MWAA is, or has a relative who’s heavily involved with Frontier but, of course, I have no proof. MWAA’s reputation is impecable, I know, but I digress

    As a longtime Dulles resident, I am amazed to see changes in the area, and particularly with this airport. Used to be, we’d die for service, any service, to anywhere. And it was easy, well, sort of to drive there. Now, the area is the highest per-capita income place in the country. The traffic is second to none (worst, that is,) whatever direction you’re coming from. And the many, many-stop Silver Line ain’t going to dramatically change anything.

    Travelers I see here (northern Virginia, even suburban WVA) are not into low fares, planes with 30″ pitch seats, or Spirit-style fare structures. Try BWI for that.

    The biggest groups of travlers are (1) Government or Government-contractor and (2) hi-tech/corporate lawyer-types. The former must use the GSA negotiated, annual city-pair contract fares. The latter..fares, who cares. Lot’s for retirees, but their pensions ain’t too bad.

    Frontier’s schedules don’t seem to be designed for business travel. And, to think UA will stand by and watch Frontier get anywhere, I don’t see it. So, Frontier, lots of luck. I don’t see any of this being successful. Just me, an opinion of one!

    1. JayB – I think you’re making some extremely broad generalizations here. There just aren’t a ton of seats being put into the market. You may have a ton of government travel, but you also have a ton of people who live in Manassas (though by now, that’s probably yet another suburb). Point is, there are always people who are looking for a deal.

      1. Manassas is pretty much a burb now. Heck, Gainesville is a burb (look that one up Cranky). Prince William and Loudoun Counties in Virginia are the fastest growing in this region, so it surprises me that more service hasn’t stuck at IAD. DCA is just so damn inconvenient for anyone out this way.

    2. You are trying to portray Frontier’s inflight service as inferior to UA. I don’t see it, with the exception of UA’s F cabin. Anyone who wants to can easily pay the little bit more for the Classic Plus fare, which is refundable, allows Economy Plus-style seating, a bag, a carryon, and an alcoholic beverage at no extra charge.

      My parents are flying Frontier out of Trenton this summer. What convinced them? They asked me the difference between Frontier and US, and I replied “Frontier has 737-sized aircraft with economy plus available for $15/person. USAir flies the route with 50 seat Regional Jets and standard coach seats.”

      Even business travelers get a lot of benefits with elite status, starting at 15,000 BIS miles/year, that UA elites don’t get.

      1. I agree. No, I don’t own stock in Frontier, but I would rather travel coach in Frontier than coach on other carriers, and if I can get their Classic Plus seats, even better. It’s an insult to even lump Frontier with Sprit. The only thing in common is Frontier’s move to a-la-carte pricing; Frontier is a much more civilized way to fly.

  12. Interesting to watch how nimble Frontier has been in taking advantage of opportunities…Trenton, Cleveland, the availability of the Z gates at IAD…

    It’s also ironic given the discussion here about the “temporary” C/D Concourse at IAD that I believe it was constructed to allow United to de-hub Cleveland in 1987…and still operating when United de-hubbed CLE a second time!

  13. It will be interesting to see if IAD will supplant BWI as the busiest of the three airports. To counter an earlier comment, BWI gets its fair share of business travel and is only 5 miles further from downtown DC than IAD. Granted, the Metro extension will shorted the distance, however, BWI has nice access via the MARC train.

    I think it is interesting to note that SWA could have offered many of the same flight pairs if it had chosen to do so. They’ve essentially abandoned IAD. I’ve never flown Frontier and can’t speak to the experience, customer service, etc. As in all things, we shall see if it is a success.

    1. SWA hasn’t abandoned IAD. They never have had much of an operation there. At last check, they offer the same destinations they did when they started flying here – ORD or DEN, that’s it.

      1. Southwest started IAD with more than that – they had Chicago Midway (seven daily), Las Vegas (one daily), Orlando (two daily), and Tampa Bay (two daily).

        Initially, they did not offer nonstops to DEN, and recently made it clear that if they can ever get “beyond perimeter” slots for DCA-DEN, they’s what they really want.

        I think the difference may be – as I understand it – that Frontier doesn’t see IAD as a surrogate for DCA/BWI, just as it doesn’t see TTN as a surrogate for PHL. Yes, there may be some bleed from PHL to TTN, but the majority of TTN pax are local to the area – Trenton, Ewing, Princeton, et al.

        1. You could be right. Frontier is probably counting on a significant amount of Northern VA O&D traffic on the routes selected, much of it siphoned from UA.

  14. I think what your seeing is at least in part a strategic jockeying (planning) by Frontier Airlines at Dulles in advance of the new metro Silver line (or whatever they decide to call it) spur which will connect Dulles Airport to the entire Washington D.C. metro train system which is schedule to open in 2016. It is suppose to be huge with departures from Dulles every six minutes. The article does mention Frontier has prime gate space in the main terminal. Mr. Franke is an prior Army infantry officer and trained in strategy.

    1. I think that the Metro expansion to IAD will be a factor, but it’s not the end all and be all. Traveling to the airport in that way will appeal to some, but not everyone, especially if you have to change trains, lug a lot of luggage, etc. And, depending on where you are coming from, it could be time consuming.

      1. When we fly into DCA we usually catch the yellow line at DCA to Metro Center and switch to the Red Line and ride it out the last stop at Shady Grove. At the wrong times of day the Metro is faster.

        1. for DCA, sure.

          but the ride on the Silver Line to DC (or Maryland) is going to take a long time.

          anyway – Cranky, that is a hilarious picture.

  15. Just curious, as a Northern Virginia resident with parents in St. Louis, what the growth potential for this operation is, and what the chance of United cutting 50 seat RJ flights between Dulles and markets like St. Louis, Cincinnati, etc is. How much value does United get running connecting passengers from those places though Dulles instead of Chicago or Newark? What role does Dulles play in United’s system relative to those two hubs? I took advantage of the introductory sale to get a $94 roundtrip ticket to spend some quality time with mom and dad in November, and would be happy to use Frontier a few times a year for Dulles-St. Louis trips but more frequent service would make that easier. Long term, is there potential for Frontier to focus a Dulles operation on connecting markets like St. Louis that are a step or more down from the country’s major business centers with Washington? I’m very much a layman but that’s what the US Airways pre-merger operation at Reagan National felt like (lot of flights to places like Jacksonville, Kansas City, etc) and am wondering if there’s room for Frontier to build up something like that at Dulles. Maybe that’s a stupid question – I’m just curious what the strategy here is.

    1. A semi-educated guess suggests the basic strategy has been laid down with the first routes – a crafty mix of (almost) guaranteed “good” routes – anywhere in Florida – together with some less obvious ones, such as MEM and maybe even STL.

      There are some missing links – DEN, obviously, CLE and the West Coast, and New England is entirely missing from the Frontier route map – but I assume they’ll come eventually. I was slightly surprised that there has been no move (so far) to add any international (as in south of the border) routes – IAD-CUN, for example – but again, it is very early days.

      I could say that I doubt you’ll see many small cities from IAD, such United’s regional flying, but tiny UST may give the lie to that, although St. Augustine may be a unique exception. Folk were surprised when Frontier added TTN-UST, but it appears to be gangbusters, at least so far.

      At this stage of the game, Frontier is trying to avoid IAD becoming a connecting hub, which plays against the low frequency model – connections usually require multiple frequencies – and with this very limited frequency even self-connects are tricky.

      As Cranky says, airlines have failed at IAD before, but what is clear is that Frontier doesn’t see IAD as a surrogate for DCA – the target market is the “local” area, with a catchment of about 1.5 million. Any bleed from DCA inclined traffic would be gravy. Perhaps the model is closer to Independence Air, with much lower costs and absent the insane amount of frequencies.

      And I guess the hope is that the (local) target market will respond as well as TTN and CLE have responded/are responding.

    2. David van den Berg – I think the chance of Frontier creating an operation that looks like US Airways at National is pretty slim. They just have completely different focuses. US Airways has tried to make sure it serves those markets with business traffic, and when the business is politics, that creates some seemingly strange routes. Frontier isn’t in the business of building up a hub. It just wants to skim leisure traffic. More likely is you see more flights to more cities, as opposed to building up frequencies on a few cities.

      davywavy – Talking about intl service, doesn’t Frontier only fly that Mexico/Caribbean stuff on behalf of Apple Vacations? Maybe they do some Mexico on their own, but it’s not a lot. So if Apple wants Dulles, then maybe they’d do it.

      1. Not quite, although yes, a lot of the Frontier scheduled flying is Mexico, but it’s not all as Apple charter.

        There are three classes of International flying. First up, there is some all charter flying for Apple. I think Airtran’s MKE-PUJ is only charter, but that may have changed, and Frontier’s DEN-HUX, when it was flying, was charter, with only Apple at risk.

        There are also Apple (charter) flights which are also Frontier scheduled as well. Frontier is allocated a bunch of seats, which are sold on the Frontier website. CLE-CUN/PUJ and CVG-CUN/PUJ fall into this category as well as several others – most of the ORD flying, as well as DEN-PUJ, and most of the STL routes.

        Then there are the flights which are Frontier initiated – Frontier is the scheduled carrier and at risk, but may have capacity purchase agreements (CPA’s) with Apple. DEN-CUN, eg, and routes such as SLC-CUN and IND-CUN. The original MCI routes were Frontier initiated, but with Funjet as the CPA, but now Apple is involved with the MCI routes as well.

        But yes – Frontier doesn’t fly without some agreement with the vacation packagers. This may be true for virtually all of the US LCC service south of the border – Sun Country at MSP and DFW, eg, and Airtran at DTW and MKE, and others. Some are all charter, some not:

        Here’s the Apple schedule, with all the partners (in whatever form) listed. It opens with ORD, but click on the box at the top right for the roll down menu of other airports:

      2. Agree CF…USA Today called this a “massive buildup by Frontier at Dulles.” Massive?? It is an expansion for sure, but hardly massive. I see this as Frontier sensing an opportunity to siphon local traffic from UA on a handful of routes.

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Cranky Flier