Southwest Reveals Its Ft Lauderdale Plans as a Four-Way Battle Heats Up

Allegiant, FLL - Ft Lauderdale, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit

Southwest extended its schedule into the summer recently, and the biggest winner was clearly Ft Lauderdale. Southwest is adding six new cities and beefing up its schedule as its new terminal expansion prepares to open. While many airports would feel lucky with one low cost carrier, Ft Lauderdale is trying to balance having no less than four of them duking it out.

Ft Lauderdale has benefited greatly from Miami’s historical inability to control spending. As fees ballooned out of control at the region’s main airport, low cost carriers had to look elsewhere to find a suitable airport to serve. Over time, Ft Lauderdale has seen its mainline airline presence shrink away while Spirit, JetBlue, Southwest, and Allegiant have all stepped up their games. And with new terminal work, there will be more growth opportunities. Take a look at how the airport’s four terminals are broken down today.

Ft Lauderdale Airport

Before you critique my map-centering abilities, I’ve included that runway on there for a reason. That is the newly-extended southern runway that has increased Ft Lauderdale’s capacity substantially. Those goofy-looking diagonal slashes are bridges over US 1 and a perimeter road. This project was massive and expensive, but the airport desperately needed it. Now with more runway capacity, the terminals can catch up to feed those airlines that want to grow.

At the bottom of the terminal complex, you see Spirit. Spirit is split across two terminals today. The bottom is Terminal 4, the international terminal. It is currently being redone so it will grow from 10 to 14 gates with all but 2 to be international-capable. That’s going to help with the crushing load of international carriers that have been entering the market (including Azul, Emirates, Norwegian and British Airways), but it’s also going to give Spirit some breathing room. More importantly, a connector is being built behind security to Terminal 3 which will allow for easier connections. Even though Spirit’s primary focus isn’t on connecting people, its route map shows why connections are more important in Ft Lauderdale. (Thank you Great Circle Mapper, for this and all following route maps in this post.)

Spirit Ft Lauderdale

Though Spirit took its foot off the gas in Ft Lauderdale to focus on growing elsewhere, this remains a massively important airport to the airline. It was the first of the low cost carriers to build up this Latin competitor to American at Miami and it has been hugely successful with it. But it’s no longer alone.

Florida has been important for JetBlue ever since its first flight headed south from New York, but the Ft Lauderdale build-up has likely surpassed the expectations of most people. It has taken over much of Terminal 3 and has put together an impressive route map.

JetBlue Ft Lauderdale

As you can see, JetBlue still has that snowbird New York to Florida routes covered quite well, but it also does more long-haul flying than Spirit does. A few years back, I wrote a post about how Spirit was running away as JetBlue grew. With hindsight, I don’t know that I’d still characterize it that way. These are clearly two different models with the ability to coexist.

Speaking of different models, there’s Allegiant. Allegiant opened Ft Lauderdale as a traditional base: a sun destination that connects infrequently to a bunch of smaller cities with no competition. But look at that route map now.

Allegiant Ft Lauderdale

There’s no Caribbean/Latin flying here, and yes, there are still a ton of airports which codes you probably don’t recognize. But there are also bigger cities with existing competition. JetBlue flies to Syracuse. Delta flies to Cincinnati. Southwest flies to Indianapolis. And Spirit, JetBlue, AND United all fly to Cleveland.

There’s clearly some stepping on toes going on here, though Allegiant still differentiates itself with a sub-daily model that’s really meant to attract people on price and nothing else.

And that finally brings us to the reason for this story in the first place: Southwest. Southwest had been hamstrung in Ft Lauderdale by the number of gates on the B concourse, so it struck a deal with the airport to build a new A concourse. This will not only add 5 gates, but it will also include a customs facility. The result is predictable.

Southwest Ft Lauderdale

Before this summer, Southwest only served 4 international destinations. Nassau has preclearance so it could operated in Southwest’s current facility. Then there are the three Cuban destinations which Southwest had to start if it wanted in on the action. But once the new facility opens, the international expansion truly begins with Cancun, Belize, and Montego Bay.

Southwest relies on connecting traffic more than the other 3 airlines, so you can be sure that these new international flights are going to carry a lot of connections. It’s not a surprise to see Orlando, Dulles, and Philly come back online with these new opportunities to feed traffic south.

So far, Southwest has primarily served markets that are beach destinations for Americans. This first round of growth has followed that line of thought. With the new reservation system coming online, Southwest will finally be able to push into more business-oriented markets. (Today it can’t take payment in foreign currency, nor an it sell international flights on its business portal SWABIZ.)

Presumably Ft Lauderdale is going to be Southwest’s primary gateway into the Caribbean with Orlando and Tampa also being important to a lesser extent. (Houston will probably serve more Mexico/Central America.) With Ft Lauderdale being important to not only Southwest but three others, it’s going to make for an interesting competitive dynamic.

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41 comments on “Southwest Reveals Its Ft Lauderdale Plans as a Four-Way Battle Heats Up

  1. Have the renovations at FTL lead to any direct loss in service at MIA? American’s hub there still seems to be quite substantial.

    1. MarylandDavid – I haven’t looked at the numbers, but I don’t believe there’s been anything correlated to that. American’s hub stands on its own.

  2. I get that FLL has a lot of so-called low cost competition but you don’t explain why the legacy carriers would be shrinking there. My guess is they aren’t backing away from the O/D traffic there, at least willingly.
    If anything it just looks like the new guys are building up FLL as a Latin American gateway, which AA does down the road at MIA and DL has up in ATL. Not like either of those legacy carriers ever used FLL as a hub in the past so overall are they shrinking because the WN’s and B6’s are taking that much of the local traffic?

    1. A – Well the legacies, in particular Delta, used to have a lot more service in markets that low cost carriers have run them out of. I can remember flying Delta’s Song from LA to Ft Lauderdale, for example. Now the legacies have shrunk back to serve their hubs with only a couple exceptions (American flies to Port au Prince and Delta flies to Raleigh/Durham). You’re right, it wasn’t about Latin for them from what I can remember. But all of these airlines are serving many domestic markets as well.

  3. Good work on this Cranky. I was at FLL last night and thought to myself “there’s a lot going on here that needs to be dissected, I need Cranky to analyze”, so thanks for reading my mind. Concourse A is coming along nicely, with windows going in. Also, I’m 90% sure the T3-T4 connector has already opened. The only question I have left is “where is JetBlue going to grow?”. They have all of the southern end of T3 now and will need more unless they’re being given a few gates in T4 to use as a shorter-term solution.

    1. Jeremy – Well, my assumption was that Spirit would need less in T3 once T4 is built out, but I also don’t know JetBlue’s current utilization. It might still have room at its existing gates.

      1. I think Spirit is fully in T4 now. JetBlue has all 10 gates in F concourse, and every time I’m there it’s way overcrowded. Simply not enough seating and very narrow. Maybe they’re making the number of gates work for them, but for passengers it’s hectic. It’ll only get worse if they keep trying to grow. Either way, growth at FLL is fascinating between these four, Norwegian, and new entries from BA + Emirates.

          1. Checked the same thing after I posted and you are right. Still, based on that it looks like >85% of the operation is taking place in 4.

      2. @Cranky Flier JetBlue uses E6, E10 & E8 (which is also shared with Azul, Spirit, and the Canadian charter airline Air Transat, when they have dual ops going on). E9 is occasionally used as well, during the ramp up of peak season air travel (I.E. The holidays, Spring Break and Summer). Spirit is using E8 and E9, but has used E1, and E4 as well when not being used by AA/US

  4. I had to look up to see there really was an airport code of USA for Allegiant. Now I know it’s the closet airport to the Charlotte Motor Speedway and has the nickname of NASCAR Airport….LOL

  5. > While many airports would feel lucky with one low cost carrier, Ft Lauderdale is trying to balance having no less than four of them duking it out.

    When I lived near SFO, WN in recent years was rarely cheaper than the “full service” carriers on the same routes. Many people don’t consider WN to be a low cost carrier anymore.

    1. We all have to remember that a low cost carrier is different than a low fare carrier. Southwest still has lower overall costs despite its increasing labor costs. As for low fares? That’s a different story.

  6. I agree with Oliver that WN is no longer a traditional LCC; but with no bag/change fees (for now) and a relatively inexpensive buy up its a VCC (Value Cost Carrier).

    1. If anything, I think the traditional ‘LCC’ term is no longer really relevant in most of the world. The true value leaders at least in terms of raw unit costs and base fares are the ULCCs, with little connectivity, off-peak scheduling, lower frequencies, and highly unbundled products.

      What we may consider more traditional LCCs like WN, WS, or 6E are arguably closer to the B6/4O ‘hybrid carrier’ model since their networks, schedules, and products have the kind of cross-market appeal to business and leisure passengers that can justify not going pursuing the lowest possible cost structure.

  7. “Today it can’t take payment in foreign currency, nor an it sell international flights on its business portal SWABIZ.”

    WN’s IT constraints never cease to amaze.

  8. What’s not being shown here is a further expansion of T4 to the East as well (I believe it will be Concourse J). This will allow Spirit to continue to grow their International flights as well. Eventually, when it is all built, Spirit will have all of its operations in T4. However, all International arrivals (except WN for now)will continue in T4. Avianca/Copa, Air Transat, Sunwings, Caribbean, Tame, and some smaller foreign airlines use this terminal for both arrivals and departures. JetBlue will be spread into T4 for their International Arrivals which will give them more room. The E gates in terminal 3 are primarily for AA, but BahamasAir, Azul, Norwegian, and Dynamic Air also use this terminal for Departures.

    What ever happened to Spirit possibly adding Service to MIA? Frontier seems to be doing well with multiple destinations being served there. MIA seems to be adding LCC’s as well like WOW, TUI, and Eurowings now flying or scheduled to start service to/from MIA.

    1. TC99 – Yes, the existing north-south concourse in T4 is, as far as I know, going away. T4 will then just be one long concourse and it’ll have 14 instead of the 10 it had before this renovation began. But will Spirit really have all operations in T4? That’ll be great, but I’m surprised there’s room.

      As for Spirit at Miami, I think they finally gave up on that plan when they couldn’t get the airport costs into a reasonable zone. I don’t expect new CEO Bob Fornaro to have any more interest in Miami compared to his predecessor, probably less.

  9. Why is Southwest still considered a low cost carrier? Their fares (and I presume their costs) are more in line with Delta and United than with Spirit and Allegiant these days.

    1. Jim,

      Agreed. It is odd how much perception (especially among occasional leisure fliers) varies from reality with Southwest.

      I will gladly give up a checked bag most of the time for the right to reserve my seat.

  10. As someone else mentioned, I remember reading (Cranky, was it you?) that Spirit was moving from FLL to MIA. They had a management change since then…has that plan been taken back?

  11. I’m curious how WN, as a late entrant competes in the Caribbean / Latin America market saturated by Spirit and JetBlue. JetBlue has a decidedly superior product. Spirit has better pricing. WN’s only real benefit is network strength – the ability to feed their existing customers into the international gateways. But they don’t seem to be able to draw market share away from B6 and Spirit. Do they?

  12. I am staggered by your Southwest revelation: “Today it can’t take payment in foreign currency, nor can it sell international flights on its business portal SWABIZ.”

    This from an airline that flies to foreign countries, and flies thousands of foreign tourists within the USA?

    That is incredibly incompetent. How can they have allowed that situation to occur? They should be ashamed of themselves.



  13. A suggested read for our Long Beach city council (and our residents of course) to get the picture of what happens in the competitive airline world. Is that what we want to experience here in Long Beach, our “City of Neighborhoods”?

  14. Some of us airline geeks love to look at route maps, so — as well as the interesting substance of the piece — it was a fun post to see.

    1. Iahphx – There will definitely be some stepping-on-toes here, but there should be room for everyone in a market like this. Maybe Cuba will be completely over-served (or should I say, definitely), and there could be other routes too where there’s a battle. But these airlines all have different models and, though not all routes will work for everyone, there’s no reason to think someone has to fail completely.

  15. Do you have any idea about terminal 3 concourse E & F gates? It just only 10 gates each, but I think they have to extending more new gates in the entire concourse F. There is no gate space available. They don’t have enough room. What is the plan for JetBlue? Can they bring more new nonstop from FLL? I don’t see JetBlue to start PHX-FLL yet. Because AA has already eliminated nonstop PHX-FLL. I think JetBlue will start nonstop FLL-PHX a twice-daily RT.

    1. Scott – I don’t know anything about T3 expansion plans. It would require taxiway reconfiguration but they certainly could add more gates if needed.
      JetBlue wants to keep growing there, but I don’t believe details have been announced.

  16. I agree that the true LCCs are really the current ULCCs. What is the real difference between a legacy carrier and a LCC? Certainly not price. There are three differences that immediately come to mind: first class seating, code sharing and trans oceanic flights. At least in my local market, all of the growth can be attributed to LCCs and ULCCs. Allegiant, Spirit, Alaska and Southwest have all announced new service coming to BWI. Is there any airport in the country that is seeing an increase in legacy service other than Delta at Seattle? Perhaps they are just disciplined and refuse to grow capacity. FLL seems to be illustrative of that trend.

    I do, however, see JetBlue and the combined Alaska / VA as very similar to the legacies.

  17. In reference to DL’s scaling back at FLL, it applies to downsizing of aircraft flying still-existing routes as well. Ten years ago, give or take, it wasn’t uncommon to ride a widebody (767) for the short hop up to ATL. I even had the pleasure of riding “The Spirit of Delta,” now housed in the Delta Flight Museum, on the route. I don’t see any domestic widebodies around FLL anymore.

    1. Carter – I’m not sure if they’re using the gates in it yet for domestic runs, but it needs to be open for the new international service starting June 4.

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