Ultra-low-cost carrier Frontier Airlines plans to cut a third of its passenger capacity to a pair of its core leisure destinations – Las Vegas and Orlando – by summertime in the USA.
“To be clear, we’re not retreating from our network footprint in either market,” chief executive Barry Biffle said during Frontier Group Holdings’ quarterly earnings call on 6 February. “We’re merely cutting what we believe is marginal, unprofitable flying.”
Frontier’s decision to cut flights to bread-and-butter US cities comes amid heightened competition in the North American low-cost segment, with Frontier, Spirit Airlines, Sun Country Airlines, Breeze Airways and Avelo Airlines all jostling for market share with major US carriers.
“One of the largest challenges many low-cost and ultra-low-cost carriers faced in 2023 was the industry’s oversupply of capacity in leisure markets, with Las Vegas and Orlando being two significant examples,” Biffle says. “Both markets have experienced rapid and disproportionate growth compared to 2019, when demand and capacity were far more balanced.”
Airlines are scheduled to keep increasing passenger flying to both cities throughout this year, Biffle says, cutting into profit margins for low-cost carriers that specialise in service to vacation destinations.
As a result, Frontier will focus its network growth on “exploiting higher-fare, visiting-friends-and-relatives markets” in the year ahead, he says: ”No one’s more aggressive and engaging in self-help to address overcapacity in leisure markets.”
Denver-based Frontier previously described struggling in its core markets during the third quarter of last year, especially outside of peak travel periods.
However, the carrier successfully operated its busiest-ever winter holiday travel period, with 15% more departures during peak December and January times than the prior-year period. “While I’m pleased with the operational performance,” Biffle says, ”I’m disappointed in the absolute result.”
Frontier reports a loss of $37 million on the quarter, compared with a $40 million profit during the prior-year period. Notably, it recorded a 20% year-on-year increase in the cost of salaries, benefits and wages.
The carrier did not make a profit on $3.6 billion in revenue for the full year of 2023, compared with its $3.3 billion of revenue the previous year.
It expects to take delivery of 23 Airbus A321neos in 2024, all of which will be financed through sale-and-leaseback transactions. Those jets will join Frontier’s existing fleet of about 135 aircraft.
As of December 31, the company had commitments for an additional 210 A320-family aircraft to be delivered through 2029.