Frontier Airlines has arrived at Hollywood Burbank Airport (BUR). With three daily flights, the carrier is not coming in with a large amount of capacity or market share, but it is shaking up its Los Angeles strategy. With new flying out of Burbank, coupled with service increases at other airports in the Los Angeles area, the carrier is looking to cease service to the expensive Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).
Frontier Airlines lands at Burbank
On Thursday, July 15th, Frontier Airlines celebrated the launch of nonstop service from Hollywood Burbank Airport (BUR) to three destinations. With daily flights to Denver (DEN), Las Vegas (LAS), and Phoenix (PHX), the carrier is shifting some flying away from LAX while also continuing to connect its base in Denver with various spokes.
Daniel Shurz, senior vice president of commercial at Frontier Airlines, stated the following on Thursday’s launch:
“We’re thrilled to add Burbank to Frontier’s extensive route map with nonstop flights to Denver, Las Vegas and Phoenix taking off today. Frontier is focused on ‘Low Fares Done Right’ and our low fares combined with the convenience of flying from Hollywood Burbank Airport offers visitors and Southern Californians an unmatched travel experience this summer and beyond.”
Frontier is leaving LAX
In the wake of Frontier announcing that it was launching operations at Burbank and expanding in Ontario International Airport (ONT), it was revealed that Frontier Airlines would be abandoning its position at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).
Frontier Airlines never really had a massive position at LAX. The carrier had only a few flights per day to Phoenix, Denver, Las Vegas, and Atlanta. Compared to many other carriers at LAX, this was a minuscule operation.
The problem for an airline like Frontier at LAX is cost. While LAX is, in general, a more expensive airport thanks to its attractive nature for both foreign and domestic carriers, it is also undergoing a massive transformation that would have seen Frontier plucked from its home in Terminal 5 to a new position in the midfield satellite concourse west of the Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT).
Considering this unattractive offering with the airport’s rising costs, Frontier had a choice to make, and it decided it was not worth it for the carrier to continue operations there. Other airlines disagreed and have kept their position or expanded it at the airport.
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The Los Angeles area airport ecosystem
Los Angeles is far from the only major city with multiple area airports. Looking at other major metropolitan areas, Phoenix, San Francisco, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, New York, and Washington D.C. all come to mind.
However, the notoriety of LAX is hard to overstate. Google Flights, for example, defaults to LAX when searching for airports in the Los Angeles area. Other search engines, such as Expedia, will show Burbank results as an area alternative.
BUR does have some advantages over LAX. The airport is much smaller and easier to navigate than LAX. At the same time, it is closer to major tourist attractions like Universal Studios, Hollywood, and northern parts of Los Angeles than LAX, which can be appealing for leisure travelers who want to maximize their time outside of the airport.
Nevertheless, the real question for Frontier is if it can succeed in Los Angeles without operating at LAX. Looking at 2019, LAX served over 88 million passengers. Burbank saw just under six million. Ontario saw around 5.6 million travelers.
For reference, looking at the San Francisco Bay Area, the major airport, San Francisco International Airport (SFO), saw 57.5 million passengers in 2019. Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC) served 15.7 million passengers, while Oakland International Airport (OAK) saw over 13.3 million passengers.
Will Frontier’s bet pay off?
As far as the Los Angeles area airports go, LAX is the clear winner. However, looking at the data, there are two potential conclusions. One would be that LAX is so dominant that there is no reason to consider alternate area airports as a replacement for LAX strategy. Another would be that there is a lot of room in Burbank and Ontario to relieve some of the pressure from LAX and provide more options for travelers.
Frontier appears to be taking the second conclusion, and the carrier has reason to be optimistic. First and foremost, despite the improvements at LAX, if Frontier wants to grow out of the Los Angeles area, it needed to get out of LAX, given how congested it already is and the limited infrastructure capacity to be able to handle an increase in flying from Frontier.
This will not necessarily be easy. Avelo Airlines, a startup ultra-low-cost carrier (ULCC), has also made its base at Burbank. However, the two airlines are not directly competing on any routes save for Burbank-Phoenix, though Avelo is flying into Phoenix-Mesa (AZA) while Frontier is at Phoenix-Sky Harbor (PHX).
Frontier Airlines also does not have to have a major presence in the Los Angeles area. If it finds the market too saturated, it can instead focus on offering low-cost point-to-point service and turn its attention to other markets. The airline is not necessarily chasing after market share in almost any market.
Market share does have its importance, however. Another way of looking at market share is to consider it as an airline’s relevance to travelers. Some travelers may be put off by Frontier’s small position in the Los Angeles area. Loyalty is less important in the leisure sector, where passengers generally purchase on price, but the airline could risk losing some relationships in the Los Angeles area.
Ultimately, there are plenty of risky decisions airlines have to make, and this is an example of one of them. The decision could come back to haunt Frontier in the future – like United’s exit out of JFK – and force the airline to come back to the airport, or it could work out heavily in Frontier’s favor as it then can use two area airports looking for more service as bases for growth and expansion as it continues to take on brand new Airbus A320neo aircraft.
What do you make of Frontier’s decision to leave LAX? Do you think it will succeed at Burbank? Will you fly Frontier to Burbank? Let us know in the comments!