Spirit Airlines adds 2 new cities in 12-route expansion
The never-ending route-map adjustments just keep coming.
The latest comes from Spirit Airlines, which revealed a big network news on Thursday. The ultra low-cost carrier is adding two dots to its map — Pensacola (PNS) in Florida and St. Louis (STL) — with 12 nonstop routes.
Service from St. Louis will launch on May 27, with new daily flights to some of Spirit's biggest cities — Fort Lauderdale (FLL), Las Vegas (LAS), Los Angeles (LAX) and Orlando (MCO).
"St. Louis was a natural addition for us. It's the largest city in the United States that Spirit doesn't currently serve... As we look at cities with similar characteristics to St. Louis, they've been rebounding quickly, making us confident that now is the right time to start serving the Gateway to the West," Nick Bartolotta, director of network planning, said in a taped video interview.
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By connecting St. Louis with Spirit's largest cities, the carrier is hoping to capitalize on leisure-focused trips to the theme parks in Orlando or the Las Vegas strip, as well as VFR (visiting friends and relatives) traffic in Fort Lauderdale and Los Angeles.
In addition to the four aforementioned routes, the carrier will start daily service from STL to Pensacola on June 10.
June 10 coincides with the date when Spirit will start operations at its new Pensacola outstation. The carrier's seven new PNS routes are all listed below. Interestingly, Miramar, Florida-based Spirit won't be flying from its operating bases to Pensacola. Much of the growth includes flights to and from secondary cities, like Columbus, Ohio (CMH), and Louisville (SDF) — another recently-announced Spirit city.
"I can't tell you how many people have come to me since I've been in this job and asked why Spirit doesn't fly to the Florida Panhandle," Bartolotta remarked.
Spirit's expansion in Pensacola comes as the city sees explosive growth in air service, despite the pandemic. As airlines look to boost revenues, they've been increasingly shifting from business- to leisure-focused routes, many of which touch the Florida panhandle.
Related: How airline route maps may continue to change in 2021 and beyond
With its relaxed COVID restrictions and a plethora of socially distant activities, pandemic-weary travelers — and airlines — have been flocking to Pensacola. Just take a look at the timetables.
Cirium schedules show that Pensacola is expected to handle roughly 10% more flights in the second quarter of 2021, compared to the same time period in 2019. Double-digit growth during the pandemic is notable, especially when airlines are slashing monthly operations by nearly 50% compared to 2019.
American Airlines, Southwest and United have all added or boosted Pensacola flights in recent months in response to the changing demand patterns.
Perhaps most interesting is the daily PNS to Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) flight. American Airlines has long had a stronghold in the market, with multiple daily frequencies between the cities.
Spirit likely sees an opportunity to break the monopoly. In recent years, American's DFW mega-hub has become a focus city for the budget carrier, as it aims to steal market share from American.
Related: The ultimate guide to Spirit Airline's Free Spirit loyalty program
Department of Transportation data shows that the nonstop DFW to PNS route had roughly 105 daily passengers in 2019, with more than 93% of them choosing American for an average gross fare of $221. With Spirit's fares starting at $45, some AA flyers might be tempted to choose Spirit's new service.
St. Louis and Pensacola are Spirit's seventh and eighth new destinations, respectively, added in the past year. Thus far in 2021, the airline has announced new and additional flights to Louisville, Milwaukee (MKE) and New York LaGuardia (LGA), including a transcon LGA to LAX route, which is poised to become LGA's longest.
A full list of Spirit's new Pensacola routes
|Destination||Flights available||Launch date|
|Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW)||Daily||6/10/21|
|Kansas City (MCI)||Mon/Wed/Fri/Sat||6/11/21|
|St. Louis (STL)||Daily||6/10/21|