There has been a lot of talk lately about whether the resurgence of coronavirus through the southern and southwestern US will lead to a stall in the already shaky recovery in demand. Though it’s hard to see real-time booking data by market, there is another way to see how things are going. All we have to do is look at Frontier’s schedule changes.
It is maddening for travelers to see Frontier change its network so often. If a route works, great. Frontier will keep flying. If it doesn’t, Frontier isn’t going to wait around. It’s also not going to give much notice when it walks away. For that reason, Frontier runs its network as close to “real time” as any airline in the US. And it’s why looking at Frontier’s network changes will help us to see how things are looking.
Defining the Hotspots
My previous attempts at finding hotspots focused on the coasts, but now, things have changed dramatically. The best way to determine if a state is a hotspot these days is to see how close it sits to the southern border. Some are easy to define. (Hello, Florida.) Instead of just relying on the obvious — again, hello Florida — I used data to set the boundaries.
I pulled up the CDC site over the weekend and downloaded the number of cases by state over the last seven days. There were eight that had more than 10,000 cases. Those were:
First of all, please get your act together Florida, for the sake of the nation. Those top four states are the ones that most have focused on, and they’re also pretty large tourist destinations in their own right. But don’t underestimate the last four either.
I give honorary mention to Nevada which has the fourth highest new case rate per capita. Chances are, it’s all those visitors to Las Vegas that are causing problems as opposed to residents. With those nine states lined up, I turned to Diio by Cirium to see what Frontier did over the weekend.
A Late July Cut
Over the weekend, Frontier cut back its July flight totals by 1.6 percent. That may not be a lot, but IT IS ALREADY JULY. Frontier is still cutting, and that means demand must be softening.
There were 30 routes that saw 140 frequencies reduced, though no route was eliminated outright. What do we know about them?
Well first of all, 20 of those routes touched Florida. That’s 82 of the flights, or more than half of what was cut. I should note that in Frontier’s July schedule, about 40 percent of flights touch the state overall, so these last minute cuts do hit Florida harder than you’d expect.
Beyond that, everything cut touched one of the nine hotspot states except for three routes.
A Closer Look at August
While these were just last minute cuts, Frontier also reduced August flights this past weekend by 13.7 percent. That’s obviously a bigger cut, and it gives us more to play with here.
The result is pretty clear. Cuts in the nine hotspot states are over 18 percent, far outpacing the overall total. Here’s how much those areas declined as a percent of total schedule thanks to this weekend’s changes.
Clear enough for you? The hotspot states must be seeing demand dry up if Frontier is cutting back like this. At the same time, the airline is deploying capacity elsewhere. Just where are we seeing the growth?
Well, Colorado — the home of Frontier’s big Denver operation — is actually up 3 percent. Some routes to hotspots went down while others went up, strangely enough, but there were plenty of routes added outside of those places.
You can see a little growth to non-hot spots in the south, but frankly, Louisiana isn’t that far down the list so that may not really hold up anyway. It’s really those midwestern and eastern destinations that I find most interesting. As the rest of the country battles, the northern parts can now travel more freely with each other.
What does seem clear here is that Frontier must be seeing weakness in these new hotspots, and that is bad news for the recovery in demand. Some governors appear to be mobilizing to try and fight this, but others seem far less concerned. If things continue to get worse, then expect bigger, broader impacts on air travel numbers just when things were starting to look up.