Spirit Airlines grabs coronavirus opportunity, adds Orange County flights

Sep 1, 2020

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Spirit Airlines is taking advantage of cuts by other carriers to add a third Los Angeles-area airport to its route map.

The South Florida-based discounter will add service to Orange County’s John Wayne Airport (SNA) beginning Nov. 17, Spirit unveiled Tuesday. Spirit will offer a total of three daily flights to Las Vegas (LAS) and Oakland (OAK).

Tickets for the new Orange County flights are available on Spirit’s website. Fares begin at $37.29 one-way to both Las Vegas and Oakland.

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The Orange County addition comes as other airlines have sharply curtailed flights to the airport amid cuts related to the coronavirus pandemic. The Southern California gateway will handle roughly half the number of flights in September than it did a year ago, according to Cirium schedules.

Flights to Orange County airport are governed by a 1985 agreement designed to limit noise for the surrounding communities. In addition to a strict curfew that limits flights to between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. local time, the total number of passengers is also capped with landing and takeoff rights divvied up annually to carriers.

These flight allocations can work both for and against airlines. For example, Spirit is able to add flights as other carriers have curtailed operations while, in 2018, Delta Air Lines was forced to suspend flights between New York John F. Kennedy (JFK) and Orange County when it lost a slot in the annual process.

Related: Spirit Airlines sues DOT for Southwest’s flights at Newark

Spirit has long pushed for greater access to capacity-constrained airports. These popular airports, like Chicago O’Hare (ORD) and Newark Liberty (EWR), are limited by things ranging from slots to available gates. Spirit went so far as to sue the Federal Aviation Administration last December to gain additional access at Newark.

The airline’s new Orange County service also comes amid what is expected to be a challenging autumn for airlines. Fears of COVID-19 have curtailed most air travel with the expectation that those who are flying — mostly holidaygoers either going on vacation or to visit family — travel less after Labor Day.

“I see a lot of opportunity” in Orange County, Spirit vice president of network planning John Kirby told TPG. “It’s not going to be a big market for us… [but] it’s a nice complement to our existing LA Basin portfolio.”

Related: Spirit Airlines calls June rebound an ‘outlier,’ could furlough nearly a third of staff

Spirit’s new Orange County flights also come as the airline gears up for both schedule and staffing cuts this fall. The airline is flying just 55% of what it flew last year in September, less than what it flew in August. And Spirit has notified roughly 2,500 staff of possible furloughs though it expects the final number to be significantly less.

The carrier will offer twice-daily service between Orange County and Oakland, and once-daily service to Las Vegas. The latter flight will be timed to connect to flights to 15 other destinations across the U.S.

Spirit will compete with Southwest Airlines — the largest carrier at John Wayne in 2019 — on both routes to Las Vegas and Oakland from Orange County, Cirium schedules show. Frontier Airlines also flies between Las Vegas and Orange County.

Related: Spirit Airlines cuts August schedule, eyes possible furloughs as recovery stalls

Updated with Spirit’s introductory Orange County fares.

Featured image courtesy of Spirit Airlines.

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