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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.