Spirit builds DC-area depth with more Baltimore/Washington flights
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Spirit Airlines is downshifting on expansion this year, slowing the pace of growth to new cities and building depth in the many new markets that have joined its route map in recent years.
Baltimore/Washington (BWI), while not a recent addition, is a key market where the South Florida-based low-cost carrier sees opportunity for more depth in 2020. Spirit grew seats by more than 22% year-over-year at the airport last year, according to Cirium schedule data, adding new flights to places like Austin (AUS), Charlotte (CLT) and Nashville (BNA).
“As we’ve added new cities to our network, we’ve found that Baltimore is a natural plug for those,” Nick Bartolotta, Spirit’s director of network planning, told TPG Friday. This year, he added, the airline will focus on “building more depth” at the airport.
That depth is already on final approach in Baltimore. Spirit will increase to four flights daily between BWI and both Fort Lauderdale (FLL) and Orlando (MCO) in April, the airline announced Friday. It will also add a second BWI-San Juan Airport (SJU) flight in May.
In addition, Spirit will add new service between Baltimore and San Salvador, El Salvador (SAL), on May 21, 2020. It will offer a daily flight on an Airbus A320 family aircraft catering to the large Salvadoran population in the greater Washington D.C. area.
The San Salvador announcement comes less than a month after Frontier Airlines unveiled the same route. The Denver-based discounter will also offer daily service with flights beginning June 21, 2020.
Asked about the timing of the San Salvador announcement, Bartolotta said there was no “emotional response,” and added that Frontier likely saw the same demand data as Spirit.
Spirit plans to grow capacity by 17-19% year-over-year in 2020, when it is scheduled to take delivery of more than 20 new Airbus A320neos.
“BWI Marshall is the undisputed low-fare airport for the mid-Atlantic,” said Jordan Kayloe, director for air service development at the Baltimore airport, in December. As the region’s busiest with 22.4 million passengers year-to-date through October, Baltimore is one of Southwest Airlines’ largest bases and a point of growth for discounters Allegiant Air, Frontier and Spirit.
Among the many reasons why the airport continues to attract discount airlines in a three-airport region is that it performs better with budget-minded travelers than flights from Washington Dulles (IAD), Jonathon Nield, Frontier’s senior manager of network planning, told TPG in December. The airline also serves Washington Reagan National (DCA) but, because of a cap on flights, it cannot grow at the close-to-downtown D.C. airport.
Spirit served Washington Reagan National until 2012, when it consolidated its D.C.-area operations in Baltimore.
Baltimore is now Spirit’s fifth largest city in terms of flights — sixth largest by seats, Cirium schedules show. This size makes Charm City the airline’s largest operation without a crew base. A crew base typically signals the strategic importance of a city to an airline, for example a hub or focus city.
Asked whether Spirit was considering Baltimore for its next crew base, Bartolotta said he was not sure. The airline’s last new base opened in Orlando in December 2018.
Lania Rittenhouse, vice president of inflight experience at Spirit, told TPG in December to expect a new base opening in the “near future.” She did not provide additional details except that several cities were being considered.
Spirit has room to continue to grow in Baltimore, said Bartolotta. Outside of peak hours when gates become tight, the airport has space for the airline’s new flights and is eager to work with Spirit to accommodate future growth, he added.
Spirit operates from Concourses D and E at Baltimore Airport.
Featured image by Edward Russell/TPG
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