Ed Note: Spirit apparently filed these new Kansas City routes before Frontier’s announcement, but due to a data glitch, it wasn’t loaded. So… keep that in mind as you read this.
I’ve been watching Frontier’s route changes very closely as of late. My assumption is that with JetBlue beginning the process of eliminating Spirit as an ultra-low fare competitor, Frontier wants to be ready to swoop in to make sure it is the biggest beneficiary. Frontier has made a few changes that we’ve covered in Cranky Network Basics and Cranky Network Weekly, but now I want to talk about the airline’s latest turn… it’s making a move on Phoenix and Spirit seems to care… a little.
Phoenix is a market that does best in the winter, so it’s no surprise to see Frontier adding 10 new routes to the airport beginning in December and January. I figured this would be a good thing to look at using Great Circle Mapper — because everything is better with Great Circle mapper — so let’s start with Frontier’s Phoenix network for this December before the announcement.
And now, here’s the network with the new routes that Frontier announced in blue.
That is a lot of new routes, and what’s even more interesting is that many of them don’t follow the traditional sub-daily pattern that Frontier has followed. Philly, Orange County, Fort Lauderdale, and BWI are all flown daily.
On the surface, this looks like a move not against Spirit but rather against American and Southwest which have been battling out their Phoenix rivalry for eons. (Ok, maybe not eons, but for more than 30 years when it was America West vs Southwest.) American is obviously a legacy airline which has been pushing pretty high fares this summer. Southwest likes to position itself as a low fare leader, but with the all-in bundle strategy that Southwest uses for even its lowest fare, that is no longer the case as it used to be.
Having those two battle each other with fares going higher means Frontier has opportunity. Few of these markets are huge Frontier stations, except Philly of course. This looks a lot like Frontier just trying to skim off the top in these markets and hope the other two don’t care.
But then yesterday, a twist. Spirit has decided that it cares, sort of. Up until now, the only overlap markets the two had from Phoenix were Las Vegas and Dallas/Fort Worth. But now, Spirit will not only launch Kansas City – Phoenix in November, but it will go double-daily on Kansas City – Las Vegas in September.
In other words, it’s not that Spirit cares about Phoenix so much, but it cares about a certain subset of markets to Phoenix. Really, it seems to care about the Midwest to Phoenix. To see what I mean, take a look at this route map showing Spirit’s Midwest routes to the west of the Rockies.
And now, here’s what Frontier had before this Phoenix expansion.
Sure, both are all over Las Vegas, but notice just how sparse Frontier is in Phoenix from the Midwest. It has Cleveland and Chicago/Midway, both cities that are or have been a focus at some point. But now Frontier will add in Minneapolis/St Paul, Indianapolis, and Kansas City. Spirit is in MSP already, but that’s not really its market to defend. And while it does fly to Indianapolis more than it does to Kansas City, it’s Kansas City that it seems more interested in defending.
So what is it about Kansas City? That’s hard to say. One thing that is worth noting is that the airport’s new terminal will open next spring. It has been a very challenging airport from a design/utility standpoint, and that will change when the new terminal opens. But it will also bring higher costs to the airport. Maybe Spirit sees some opportunity here to do some sort of land grab to get all the gates it could ever possibly want.
I’d love to say this is some sort of secret plot by JetBlue to get Spirit to gather enough space so that JetBlue can really move in after the merger… but c’mon. That’s not what’s happening here. This is Kansas City, not LaGuardia. JetBlue could grow there if it wanted. I can’t imagine it needs to do something illegal (coordinating with Spirit before the merger is done) just to corner the Kansas City market.
This is probably more about Spirit just deciding there was more opportunity in Kansas City and it had the aircraft time to make it work. I’m not sure if this sends any kind of warning shot to Frontier. If it does, it’s like a bb gun at worst. Frontier won’t care.
Or maybe this is just the first shot of an upcoming war as Spirit continues to try to run its airline until the JetBlue deal gets done. That would sure make the next year or so a whole lot of fun.