MIAMI — Frontier Airlines is nearly doubling its presence at Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport as it continues its transformation into an ultra-low-cost carrier. The move is also seen as good news for Cincinnati as the airport has seen hundreds of flights cut from hub carrier Delta Air Lines.

(Credits: Benjamin Bearup)
(Credits: Benjamin Bearup)

Delta last week announced another round of flight cuts, going from 106 daily nonstop flights to 89 a day by the summer. The Atlanta-based airline has cut nearly 600 flights from Cincinnati since 2005. Delta’s loss is Frontier’s gain, as the carrier goes from 32 weekly nonstop flights to 61, continuing growth that started in May 2013.

Last March, Frontier announced a major expansion at Cleveland-Hopkins International Airport, taking advantage of United Airline’s decision to dehub the facility. But in December, it was reported that the carrier was ending service to Chicago O’Hare, LaGuardia, Washington-Dulles and New Jersey’s Trenton-Mercer Airport.

Cincinnati is an attractive airport for Frontier because it has historically been able to support a much greater level of service and airfares continue to remain attractive to an airline like Frontier that is hoping to come in and capture travelers through more appealing pricing and an expanded service offering, said Joseph Pickering, an air service development consultant for Mead and Hunt. “Cincinnati remains a large market with some of the country’s highest fares.  Yet, until recently, it has been one of the last holdouts for significant low-cost carrier service,” he said. “Frontier growing in the market is a page out of nearly every LCC carrier playbook – lower fares and stimulate traffic.”

Frontier’s expansion is backfilling some of the service eliminated by Delta by offering service on larger aircraft to destinations that were either vacated by Delta or currently underserved, said Pickering. “Delta’s reductions are likely driven by the need to thin out its regional airline schedule due qualified pilot shortages and not necessarily a reflection of the Cincinnati market, so Frontier likely sees this as an opportunity to pick up some business,” he said.

With such a strong base of local businesses, the Cincinnati market remains attractive to carriers like Frontier that are looking to expand, said Pickering. “Though local businesses have historically shied away from low-cost carriers like Frontier, it was mostly because their flight schedule didn’t provide convenient access to the markets the business community needed to get to,” he said. “With Frontier expanding its schedule, it has an opportunity to offer flights to the places businesses want to go.”

The industry is changing as LCCs and ultra-low-cost carriers dip their toes into more traditional leisure markets, said Pickering. “As they gain a foothold, they inevitably expand in more traditional business markets.  The high fares and ability to stimulate traffic are just too appealing to overlook,” he said. “Delta will continue to garner the lion’s share of the business market – they still have the breadth and depth of service to the places that business travelers want to go to out of Cincinnati.  Maintaining service to the key connecting hubs is still essential for Cincinnati, along with expanding service to those key destinations the community needs.”

Frontier is adding new daily direct service to Fort Myers, Florida, and Atlanta. In addition, service to Fort Lauderdale goes from three to seven flights a week, while service to Orlando goes from four to seven flights per week. And service to Las Vegas doubles to two flights a day. The service will be operated with the carrier’s fleet of Airbus A319s.

Cincinnati won’t have the 600-plus daily flights it had 10 years ago, said Pickering. “But if the economy remains strong and local businesses continue to have the need to travel you will continue to see Cincinnati increase its service offerings like you’re seeing with Frontier’s recent expansion announcement,” he said. “As it stands today, there is opportunity for additional flights and new entrant carriers at Cincinnati.”