Spirit Airlines adds 6 routes to its 2 newest destinations in latest network update
It's a celebratory day at Spirit Airlines.
Spirit Airlines is adding two pins to its route map on Thursday —Louisville (SDF) and St. Louis (STL) — with inaugural flights taking off from both cities in the morning.
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But that's not all. In addition to its first tranche of routes from those cities, Spirit is already adding more service from SDF and STL later this year. Specifically, the carrier will add the following routes:
|Louisville (SDF)||Fort Myers (RSW)||4x weekly||Nov. 17|
|Louisville (SDF)||Tampa (TPA)||3x weekly||Nov. 18|
|St. Louis (STL)||Fort Myers (RSW)||Daily||Nov. 17|
|St. Louis (STL)||Phoenix (PHX)||Daily||Nov. 17|
|St. Louis (STL)||Tampa (TPA)||Daily||Nov. 17|
|St. Louis (STL)||Cancun (CUN)||Daily||Dec. 22|
This joins the previously announced service from both SDF and STL to five of the airline's top destinations, including flights to Fort Lauderdale (FLL), Las Vegas (LAS), Los Angeles (LAX), Orlando (MCO) and Pensacola (PNS), the first of which begins on Thursday.
In explaining the rapid growth in an interview with TPG, John Kirby, vice president of network planning, said that the new routes being announced on Thursday were in the works for a while, but the market is already outperforming expectations. "The response in the advance bookings we're seeing in both markets makes us wonder if we maybe we should even add a little bit more," he said.
The most significant expansion is in St. Louis, where the carrier will nearly double its destination count, including its first international service from the city — to Cancun.
"One of the things we noticed that St. Louis had been impacted and lost some service. So we viewed that really as an opportunistic play to build some capacity, but we're really playing to our strength," he said in explaining Spirit's reason to nearly double its St. Louis market from day one.
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In addition to its core markets like Fort Lauderdale and Orlando, Spirit wanted to boost St. Louis and Louisville with leisure-oriented destinations just in time for the winter holiday season.
"Come fall, people are looking to go to Fort Myers and Tampa, coupled with Cancun. That's where we were expanding pre-pandemic. We plan to be back to that same level of capacity and gateways post-pandemic, as well as taking advantage of the seasonality of a market like Phoenix," Kirby explained.
Much of the growth is focused on the traffic that originates in St. Louis and Louisville, as opposed to tourists flying Spirit to those destinations. Kirby admitted that there's some VFR (visiting friends and relatives) traffic, but the primary focus is to take people to vacation destinations, Spirit's core network strategy.
Neither St. Louis nor Louisville has a significant ultra-low-cost carrier presence, so Spirit's hoping its expansion there can allow it to offer low base fares and stimulate demand for its flights, according to Kirby.
There is one newly announced route — Louisville to Tampa — that'll draw some interesting competition. On Friday, Breeze Airways, the country's newest startup carrier, will launch flights between the aforementioned cities as part of its first batch of 39 routes.
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Kirby isn't necessarily worried about Breeze right now. He admitted that Spirit has some overlapping routes, but "I think leisure volume is very strong," he said. "Playing to leisure is to any carrier's strength, whether it's a new entrant or an existing carrier. We'll see, it's still a very competitive industry and, we wish them well."
Spirit's move to beef up service at its newest cities comes as analysts predict a very busy summer for recently vaccinated and pandemic-weary leisure travelers taking to the road.
Kirby agrees that the summer is going to be busy. "I would say that's probably the biggest learning [throughout the pandemic] is the rebound... It's going to be a good summer from a demand, volume standpoint. Obviously, yields still have to catch up to pre-pandemic levels. But overall, I think we're going to see pre-pandemic load factors for all carriers."