DOT Denies Frontier Airlines A Network Waiver

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The US Department of Transportation (DoT) has today rejected Frontier Airlines’ request to minimize its current network. Simultaneously, it has granted Sun Country Airlines permission to stop flying to a major part of its domestic destinations. These requests have come after airlines have found it hard to make revenue on most of their flights. However, as a part of the US government’s relief fund, these airlines are required to fly to all of their destinations.

Frontier Airlines
Frontier Airlines will have to operate to all of its destinations. Photo: Frontier Airlines

An overview

The United States government had last month announced that it would be providing US-based airlines special funding to help them survive the impact of the ongoing pandemic. The funding, also known as The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, will be provided to all airlines as long as they meet specific rules and guidelines. One of these guidelines requires airlines to fly to every domestic city that they flew to before the pandemic began.

Unfortunately, many of these airlines have found it hard to make money on most of their routes. As a result of this, they started consolidating their services to one or two major airports in every city. For example, JetBlue used to fly to 15 airports in the country’s five biggest metropolises. However, after its consolidation plans, flights to eight of these airports were suspended.

Despite possible alternatives, some airlines have found it hard to sustain every passenger route. Frontier Airlines had requested the US government to allow it to stop flying to 30 destinations across the US for the time being. Out of these, Frontier has been permitted to quit its services to just three: Boston, Charlotte, and Detroit.

On the other hand, Minneapolis-based Sun Country Airlines has received approval to suspend service to 15 domestic markets until June 21.

Sun Country Airlines
Sun Country has been allowed to minimize its current route network. Photo: Sun Country.

The reason

Although the decision seems quite biased against Frontier, The US Department of Transportation (DoT) has a practical reason behind it. It reasoned that smaller carriers like Sun Country should be granted relief from serving large hubs or focus city airports. Specifically, those that have abundant services by large operators and use these airports as connecting hubs.

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More specifically, the DoT said it would grant relief for carriers with less than 10% of total domestic capacity from operating to large hub airports. Since Sun Country holds a negligible market share in the US airline industry, its allowances are understandable.

The other reason behind this ‘unfair’ treatment might have to do with the differing nature of these two airlines. Frontier operates leisure routes to primarily large-hub destinations, while Sky Country mainly flies to smaller cities with much lower demand. It is evident that as far as the current situation is concerned, there is almost no demand from non-major destinations.

Spirit Airbus Runway
Spirit has a very diverse network. Photo: Spirit Airlines

Recently other US carriers like Spirit and JetBlue had made similar requests. Most of these were rejected by DoT based on the same reasoning. For now, the United States government has to assess what is more important, an extensive airline network, or the safety of passengers.

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Do you think these decisions are justified? Let us know in the comments.

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