Southwest May Not Love Newark, But Frontier Sure Does

Frontier has served New York’s LaGuardia Airport for many years, but it doesn’t want to fly to New York from just one airport. Days after Southwest quits flying from Newark entirely, Frontier will be setting up shop. These are very different airlines, but the contrast in how they view Newark is worth examining.

Frontier is going into Newark in a big way. Well, at least, it’s big for Frontier. Service starts on November 14 to four cities, but by next year there will be flights to 15 different cities. And this isn’t the usual Frontier plan of flying a couple days a week on each route. Every route announced so far will operate at least daily. Here’s the rundown:

DestinationFrequencyStart Date
Las VegasDailyNov 14
San Juan
Orlando2x Daily
MiamiNov 14 (2nd starts Dec 10)
AtlantaDailyDec 10
Phoenix
West Palm Beach
CancunTBDMar/Apr 2020
Chicago/O’Hare
Dallas/Fort Worth
Denver
Ontario
Punta Cana
Raleigh/Durham
Tampa

This is no Allegiant flying to smaller markets. Frontier looks to have just taken a list of the biggest destinations from Newark and decided to fly to them. Interestingly, some of these (Atlanta, Denver, Miami, and Orlando) are already served by Frontier from LaGuardia. If you can’t grow at LaGuardia, might as well find the next best option, I suppose.

The first destinations are “sun” destinations where winter demand is highest. (Ok, so Atlanta may be something of an outlier there.) These flights are going to be hugely Newark-origin, something that Southwest said it simply couldn’t attract.

After the winter, Frontier will expand into other cities which are Frontier strongholds like Chicago, Denver, Raleigh/Durham, and the surprise transcon to Ontario. The only one that has me scratching my head is Punta Cana. After all, demand has reportedly tanked in the Dominican Republic thanks to the reporting of tourist deaths as well as the shooting of Big Papi. I do wonder if this route sticks, but for the rest, hopes are higher for success.

Why does Frontier see opportunity where Southwest doesn’t? Well, in the big leisure markets like that bottomless pit of demand to Florida, Frontier has a better model. Frontier can make money offering much lower fares since it has taken bags, food, etc out of the base fare. It has also dramatic reduced its costs. A lower sustainable fare will help to stimulate local traffic.

Southwest had multiple frequencies in many markets and was clearly making a play for the leisure and business traveler. With daily service, Frontier might find the stray business traveler who doesn’t care about her MileagePlus status, but it’s really about leisure.

To make this even more clear, just look at the schedule here. We only have the first seven markets loaded so far, but:

While a couple of airplanes come in late and spend the night, most airplanes come in and do a turn. Most notably, Frontier has so far completely avoided scheduling during the peak afternoon hours, and it is expected to continue that when those new flights get added next year. Frontier mentioned this in the press release, and there is good reason to do this.

Newark is congested, and the afternoon hours are the worst. The hardest part about operating at Newark is getting gates, but if Frontier is going to operate outside those peak hours it should be able to utilize gates that are now primarily used by international airlines during the afternoon peak. Problem solved.

Normally, this is a bad idea, because it means Frontier can’t actually operate when people want to travel. But remember, this is Frontier. It is selling a cheap fare, and it figures that people will be willing to shift their schedules to save a buck. Setting operating hours outside of prime time allows the airline to get into the airport and it shouldn’t dramatically impact the bottom line. At least, it won’t have nearly the same impact as it would have on a carrier catering to the business traveler.

The timing of this announcement is somewhat amusing. Frontier is on a kick lately about saying just how “green” and environmentally friendly the airline is. CEO Barry Biffle gave a speech that fell flat at the Boyd Conference last week where he teased a new class of service only to reveal the joke that it was just calling every existing seat “Green Class” thanks to how fuel efficient the airline is. Why is it so fuel efficient? Besides the newer airplanes, it’s because it packs in the number of passengers and charges for bags, among other things. It has even rolled out a website at flygreener.com.

Why do I say the timing is amusing? Just think how much fuel Frontier will burn while slowly taxiing out to the runway in Newark. Would a truly green airline fly to an airport like that? Maybe when Barry was talking about being “green,” he was referring to the color of money. Because Frontier, unlike Southwest, thinks Newark is going to make the airline a whole lot of cash.

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24 Responses to Southwest May Not Love Newark, But Frontier Sure Does

  1. Evil Bob Crandall says:

    Will entering Newark take away from Trenton?

    • Velorouge says:

      I was thinking the same thing… with F9 in PHL and now EWR, TTN feels like an odd duck in the middle of two large catchment areas.

    • CF says:

      This should just expand the pie for Frontier. Trenton, as I understand it, does quite well for the airline and can pull from the areas immediately around it. Philly hasn’t hurt Trenton, and Newark probably won’t do much damage either. The people flying out of Trenton for the most part will still want to go out of Trenton. I think.

  2. Angus Jones says:

    That was a looong setup for the post-ending joke!

    F9 will gladly take Expedia OTA bookings and Google Flights metasearch referrals that Southwest wouldn’t — price-motivated bookings from people who wouldn’t otherwise think “Frontier!”

    Can’t wait for UA vs. F9 round XXIV (or so). Cue Scott Kirby’s response in 3, 2, 1…

    Southwest takes the customer satisfaction and pricing power bump from not being commoditized on an Expedia shelf (I believe there’s a CSAT benefit from having people consciously navigate to and book from your website).

    • David M says:

      I recall reading from Spirit a while back that most of their complaints came through third-party booking channels. That makes sense as those customers were just booking based on price and weren’t necessarily aware of the differences between Spirit and other airlines especially in terms of fees. Customers that knew of Spirit and booked direct generally knew what to expect.

  3. FC says:

    I don’t expect this too last long. F9 will get price matched to death by UA BE. If NK got forced to cut back by UA’s price matching, F9 will leave a lot of these market very soon. It’s sad but I do worry that UA will simply dominate more and more of EWR.

  4. SEAN says:

    Truthfully I have my doubts if this plan will work. F9 is competing against the mega-hub of UA there. You can forget about getting through that security line in a efficient manner… it’s Newark… where it takes two hours to clear security at 4:00 AM. I’ve done that once & never again.

  5. JayB says:

    Classic: “But remember, this is Frontier.” You could add: “Really, what were you expecting? Next.”

    Whatever!

  6. Kilroy says:

    Well, I suppose Frontier could always have a tug pull each plane out to the end of the taxiway, then put a match in the jet engines when the plane is #2 or #3 for takeoff. Then again, that’s been tried before, and has been discontinued, so…

    Random question on a different topic: Does EWR (or do other airports) vary landing & other fees by time of day, as in congestiion pricing? Seems like a regular (annual/semi-annual) auction for takeoff/landing slots by time might maximize airport returns in congested airports, while also encouraging airlines serving more price-sensitive pax to shift their schedules to less congested times.

    • CF says:

      Kilroy – There aren’t slots at Newark anymore, so that’s not happening. I don’t believe it’s even possible to vary costs by time of day for landing fees, but then again, this is an area where my knowledge is fuzzy.

    • Anthony says:

      They do not charge congestion pricing, and slots, or in EWR’s case, landing authorizations, are not auctioned annually. Once you own them, they are yours forever.

  7. CLTflyer says:

    So I went to the Frontier “green” website and there is a lot of green-washing stuff that are really consumer comfort cut-backs. Like “we eliminated wifi to safe weight” and “we eliminated standard beverage service to safe weight” or “we don’t take as many bags as other airlines” (said another way: we ding you so much for luggage you’ll think twice when packing). However, the best one has to be the weight safe through their seats: “Our PRE-RECLINED seats…” (capitals mine).

    They also provide a timeline of their accomplishments on their green journey. I don’t think anybody is going to care. The reason people choose, and will continue to choose Frontier, is purely cost driven, not green driven. Anecdotally: I recently consulted with one of the largest global oil companies, and they told me that the number of people buying those carbon off-sets when booking a ticket is not much greater than 0%.

    By the way, I pray AA doesn’t get wind of the Frontier initiatives, because they will want to get in on those “pre-reclined” seats!!

    • NathanP says:

      For most of the flight segments offered by Frontier you shouldn’t be reclining your seat. I actually like the pre-reclined seats as they guarantee that the guy in front of you won’t invade your space on a short day-time flight. Even with Frontier’s tight seat pitch I can get my knees in, and I give credit to the non-reclining, non-complex seats.
      Keep up the good work Frontier. I will choose your non-stops out of RDU anytime over a connection in ATL, CLT, MIA, IAD…

  8. SubwayNut says:

    Just needed to book a weekend trip to Syracuse from South Bend and experienced United matching Frontier first hand. Frontier flies ORD to SYR in Fall only on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. On these days UA nonstop are pricing as low as $49 one way. Other days the price is over $300 for the nonstop.

    For a weekend trip next month it was actually cheaper to add the SBN to ORD puddle jumper with a longish layover in ORD to get to SYR (still over $200) on Friday afternoon, compared to booking the same flight nonstop. For the return on Sunday were booked on Frontier for $39 each (United wanted $119), and will take the L to the South Shore Line train to get home to SBN. My partner who is a midfat with wide hips really likes flying Frontier because of their wider middle seats so the choice was easy.

  9. Eastern 727 Whisperjet says:

    For what it’s worth, gate availability at Newark Liberty may improve when the new Terminal One replaces Terminal A. If I understand it correctly (which I may not, as I am working purely from memory here), the new Terminal One will have 33 contact gates capable of accommodating 737/A320 family aircraft, whereas the current terminal couldn’t have quite that many (I believe up to 24 or so of this aircraft group size?) for this size aircraft.

    Of course, that does nothing in terms of any airfield limitations or ATC slots, et cetera. AND I am assuming Frontier will be in Terminal A to begin with…

  10. Eastern 727 Whisperjet says:

    Also, please note that the Frontier expansion at EWR allows for service to domestic cities beyond the legal perimeter rule at LGA – Las Vegas, San Juan, Phoenix and Ontario.

    I feel it’s really past time the LGA perimeter rule be abolished…

  11. Ian Littman says:

    Thanks for listing out the departure/arrival times. I checked a few when I saw the announcement and they were all the 6am ones…oof.

    Frontier does seem to be stepping up service to ONT; we have a nonstop from AUS with them as well.

    As for UA competing with Frontier, that’s certainly nothing new (ahem, DEN…and ORD for that matter). UA will ensure Basic Economy is an option for flights with similar destinations/timing to Frontier’s frequencies, with pricing that’s in the same ballpark (though Frontier’s prices are more of a moving target due to promo codes, Discount Den, etc.)…assuming UA ends up with enough plane space to absorb the added traffic.

    The catch right now is that UA doesn’t have MAX9s to provide cheap capacity against these frequencies, so they may be willing to keep a price premium and cede some traffic to F9 rather than dropping their own revenue per flight. So not only are UA’s costs higher (AFAIK Frontier’s costs are lower than Spirit’s now) but their opportunity costs are as well.

    Frontier’s greenwashing is definitely a bit much, but I’m not gonna complain about an airline that shows up in the OTAs and pushes flight prices down on the routes they serve for awhile (as Spirit and Frontier are doing rather adeptly in AUS).

  12. John Dubpernell says:

    Wait for it @ 00:38

    • Tim Dunn says:

      Hopefully CF will do a tribute to the AA Super 80 retirement this week. I spent may hours on the plane flying both AA, DL and other airlines.
      I passed an AA last MD80 flight ceremony at an airport yesterday. Vasu is right. AA would not be here or what it is today if it weren’t for the Super 80.

      As for Frontier and Newark, they just jumped into an opportunity that was waiting for them. The real question is how well they can fill planes early in the morning from Newark but I suspect they will do fine; the NYC market is huge and UA just doesn’t have enormous amounts of capacity at EWR it can throw at F9’s super low fares.

  13. Midwest + CRJs = Likely Failure says:

    How long do you think the Midwest Express revival will last? 3 days? Weeks? or Months?

  14. Juan says:

    Sounds like the Network Planning team at Frontier got drunk at the Rockies game one night and one of their friends at Southwest made a joke to them about if they start flying to EWR they’ll make money. A few days later, Frontier announces their intentions to bleed more cash while their pink slips get printed up and signed. Idiots. If you’re not named United, EWR will never work for you!

    • henry LAX says:

      hhahahha thanks for the laugh. Their collapse is entirely their own fault for failing to offer routes to places people actually wanna go. who the heck wanna go to worthless trumpian piss-poor states like Indiana and Missouri for tourism.

  15. Anthony says:

    F9 is not adding from 1300-2100 because the FAA will not allow it. The FAA is absorbing the few vacated WN movements as an OTP buffer in the peak afternoon where it is oversubscribed, and not allowing any airline to backfill that flying.

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