Frontier Expands In Philadelphia; Raises Questions About Future of Trenton Operation
MIAMI — Frontier Airlines is restarting service to Philadelphia, launching nonstop flights to six new destinations in Winter 2014 and Spring 2015, and expanding existing service to Cancun in partnership with Apple Vacations. New flights to Miami, Orlando, and Tampa will begin December 20, 2014, while Cancun will be up-gauged with increased frequency on December 21, 2014. Additionally, service to Atlanta, Charlotte, and Chicago O’Hare will begin in “spring 2015,” with flight schedules and frequencies yet to be determined. For the four routes with firm details, frequencies are as follow:
- Cancun – Increase from 1x weekly to 5x weekly
- Miami – 1x daily
- Orlando – 2x daily
- Tampa – 1x daily
Frontier had previously dropped service to Philadelphia in 2013 as part of its transition away from a hub-and-spoke low cost carrier (LCC) model to a point-to-point (p2p) ultra-low cost carrier (ULCC) one. At the time, it was expected that Frontier would utilize secondary, low cost airports in the vein Ryanair in Europe or Allegiant Air in the United States. An early indicator of that strategy actually occurred in the Philadelphia metropolitan area at Wilmington and Trenton, which Frontier billed as alternate airports for Philadelphia.
Trenton in particular was a resounding success, allowing Frontier to tap into leisure demand from both Philadelphia, and the affluent swaths of Central New Jersey within a 35-mile radius of Trenton Mercer Airport. At one point, Trenton rose to become Frontier’s second largest focus city, with 67 weekly flights to 19 destinations (four seasonal), as shown in the route map below.
However, after its sale to noted ULCC incubator Indigo Partners LLC, Frontier has shifted its strategy to focus on major markets such as Cleveland, Washington Dulles, Chicago O’Hare, and others, in line with the strategy utilized by rival ULCC Spirit Airlines. These cities are likely to be successful for Frontier, as they are dominated by full service and network airlines who have steadily increased fares over the past half-decade. Frontier will be able to stimulate demand and fill its airplanes, and with an improving cost structure, generate strong profitability.
But that raises the question of what to do with the Trenton focus city. No airline need be monolithic in terms of network strategy (Southwest still serves the secondary airports alongside major ones). But with Philadelphia so close by, consolidation at the larger market might make sense, given that it would give Frontier access to about 90% of the same customer base and nearly halve operating costs. Wilmington has already largely been drawn down, and despite Trenton’s initial success, the New Jersey airport might be next on the chopping block.