Frontier expands case against AirTran for rights to Chicago-Cancun market

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Frontier Airlines today issued a new rebuttal in an intense race with rival carrier AirTran Airways for access to scheduled passengers flights between Chicago and Cancun, Mexico.

The new rebuttal in a filing to the Department of Transportation (DOT) focuses on disproving AirTran's claim that Frontier cannot serve the market adequately because it currently has no branded presence at Chicago O'Hare airport.

Frontier instead pointed to its interline connections with United Airlines and American Airlines, although the carrier emphasised Chicago-Cancun is largely a local leisure market.

For connecting passengers, Frontier's interline agreements have 83 cities feeding the southbound route from Chicago O'Hare to Cancun, and 121 cities connected to Chicago O'Hare after passengers arrive from the northbound route, Frontier said.

Frontier also disputed AirTran's claim that it can tap a nationwide passenger network by serving the Cancun route from Chicago Midway, a major hub of parent Southwest Airlines.

"Despite Southwest's vaunted Midway network, a passenger cannot book a connection between Southwest and AirTran," Frontier said.

Southwest and AirTran are waiting for regulatory approval of a single operating certificate, which they expect to receive in the first quarter.

Since 21 November, Frontier has been seeking DOT approval to launch scheduled service after this month. The Chicago-Cancun route currently belongs to USA3000, which provides charter flights for Apple Vacations. But Apple has selected Frontier to replace USA3000 on the chartered flights after 31 January. Frontier has applied to convert the charter flights to scheduled services, competing with daily service now offered by American and United, as well as a weekly frequency by US Airways.

Securing DOT approval for scheduled services is critical for Frontier's business case on the Chicago-Cancun route.

"Operating only as public charters will not enable Frontier to be a truly effective competitor with the legacy carriers," Frontier said.