Spirit Airlines snags more Orange County slots, adds another new route
Spirit Airlines is making a bigger play for Southern California. The discount airline landed more slots at region's popular Orange County airport as the coronavirus pandemic opens some of the country's previously restricted airports to new competition.
Spirit will begin new daily service between John Wayne Airport (SNA) in Orange County and Phoenix (PHX) on Jan. 6, the South Florida-based carrier said Thursday. It plans to add a second daily flight on the Orange County-Las Vegas route the same day.
The general opening of popular-but-restricted airports like Orange County has produced a glut of new flights. In addition to Spirit, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines and Sun Country Airlines have all added flights in places like Chicago O'Hare (ORD), Los Angeles (LAX) and Newark (EWR).
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Orange County is a unique case. While not slot-restricted in the traditional sense — where an airline can own a slot that allows them one takeoff or landing — the number of passengers annually is capped at John Wayne. That means the number of flights there can vary by year depending on airlines' planned schedules.
Flights at the Southern California airport are reallocated on a regular basis depending on airlines' schedules; priority is given to incumbents. That last point had effectively blocked Spirit from adding Orange County to its map until now.
In November, seats in Orange County are due to be down 45% compared to the same month in 2019, according to Cirium schedules. Canada's WestJet has suspended service altogether while United Airlines will be down nearly 63% and Alaska Airlines by 59%.
Related: Budget airlines muscle into big airports as coronavirus creates new opportunities
Spirit will begin John Wayne flights on Nov. 17. Initially, it will connect the airport to Oakland (OAK) twice daily and Las Vegas once daily. It flies Airbus A320 family jets.
“I see a lot of opportunity," Spirit vice president of network planning John Kirby said of the new Orange County flights in September. “It’s not going to be a big market for us… [but] it’s a nice complement to our existing L.A. Basin portfolio.”
The new flights are just part of a multi-pronged strategy by Spirit to attract more flyers. The airline rolled out a new frequent flyer program, Free Spirit, in October and began installing new cabins and seats on its Airbus jets at the end of last year.
Related: Spirit Airlines has an all-new frequent flyer program