Spirit Airlines revamps schedule with circle routes so it can receive coronavirus aid

Apr 27, 2020

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Spirit Airlines is circling around serving many of the cities on its map during the coronavirus pandemic in a manner that is more 1980 than 2020.

The South Florida-based discounter will serve at least 16 cities across the U.S. as “circles” in order to comply with the air service requirements of the payroll assistance it received from the federal government, Spirit confirmed and Cirium schedules show. Its request to suspend flights to many of these destinations was denied by the Department of Transportation.

A circle route is one that combines two cities onto one route in a circular fashion, for example from Las Vegas (LAS) to Oakland (OAK) then Sacramento (SMF) before heading back to Las Vegas. They are also known as triangle routes.

Get Coronavirus travel updates. Stay on top of industry impacts, flight cancellations, and more.

Spirit Airlines circular routings in May 2020. (Image by Cirium)
Spirit Airlines circular routings in May 2020. (Image by Cirium)

 

Spirit’s circle routes in May include:

  • Fort Lauderdale (FLL) – Raleigh/Durham (RDU) – Charlotte (CLT) – Fort Lauderdale
  • Fort Lauderdale – Plattsburgh (PBG) – Niagara Falls (IAG) – Fort Lauderdale
  • Las Vegas – Oakland – Sacramento – Las Vegas
  • Las Vegas – Seattle (SEA) – Portland, Oregon (PDX) – Las Vegas
  • Orlando (MCO) – Asheville (AVL) – Greensboro (GSO) – Orlando
  • Orlando – Cleveland (CLE) – Columbus (CMH) – Orlando
  • Orlando – Pittsburgh (PIT) – Latrobe, Pennsylvania (LBE) – Orlando
  • Orlando – Richmond (RIC) – Charleston, West Virginia (CRW) – Orlando

Serving cities with circular routings “allows us to keep our guests connected while also complying with the provisions of the CARES Act more efficiently,” Spirit spokesperson Erik Hofmeyer told TPG.

The adaptive routings allow Spirit to maintain air service with the least amount of capacity allowed under the federal government’s aid package, known as the CARES Act. Demand remains near non-existent with the latest airport screening numbers from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) remaining around 5% of where they stood at the same time last year.

Related: JetBlue, Spirit rejected by DOT on nearly all bailout waiver requests

Spirit’s circular routings are the latest way U.S. carriers are adapting to the CARES Act air service requirements. Alaska Airlines consolidated 12 routes into six with airports like Baltimore/Washington (BWI) tagged on to the flight to Pittsburgh (PIT). JetBlue Airways took the tagging concept and raised it up a level with varied one-stop routings to cities like Albuquerque (ABQ) and Bozeman (BZN).

JetBlue's temporary flight routing map for May and June 2020. (Image courtesy of JetBlue Airways)
JetBlue’s temporary flight routing map for May and June 2020. (Image courtesy of JetBlue Airways)

 

The DOT has granted some air service waivers. Spirit was allowed to suspend service to Aguadilla (BQN) in Puerto Rico where the governor has moved has moved to limit all flights to just the San Juan (SJU) airport. Other waivers have gone to airports where local health authorities are quarantining arriving passengers, as in Hawaii, and to ones that are closed, like in Cedar City, Utah (CDC).

Circle and tag routes are not new. Prior to the development of major hubs in the early 1980s, many airlines served multiple cities on a single route as a tag, circle or even a “milk run” that served several cities along a given route. For example, Eastern Air Lines served Portland and Seattle as a circle from Omaha (OMA) and St. Louis (STL) in 1976, and Western Airlines served five cities enroute from Salt Lake City (SLC) to Great Falls, Montana (GTF) in 1970.

Spirit plans to resume a more normal schedule in the 16 cities that it is serving with either circles or as a tag when travel begins to rebound after the pandemic, said Hofmeyer.

One optimistic sign in Spirit’s May schedule: a lot of the circle-route cities will get their own nonstop flight for Memorial Day Weekend.

Related: Airlines ask DOT to suspend flights to more US airports, small cities fare worst

Editor’s note: Updated to reflect Niagara Falls and Plattsburgh service as a circle and not a tag.

Featured image courtesy of Spirit Airlines.

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. Offer ends 11/10/2021.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer expires 11/10/2021.
  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Annual Fee
$250
Balance Transfer Fee
N/A
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.