On Saturday, June 12th, Spirit Airlines made the best argument for lifting the perimeter rule at LaGuardia or at least relaxing it. The airline inaugurated services on the airport’s only transcontinental services, flying an Airbus A320neo nonstop from LaGuardia Airport (LGA) in New York to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). Simple Flying got a chance to fly on the inaugural.
Spirit’s LaGuardia to Los Angeles flight
Spirit Airlines announced in March that it would launch LaGuardia’s only transcontinental route to Los Angeles starting on June 12th. Using an Airbus A320neo, this flight would run once a week on Saturdays.
Spirit Airlines is a relatively small player at LaGuardia, though it is trying to grow as much as possible at the airport. The airline’s operations are currently split across two terminals.
All flights to Fort Lauderdale (FLL) depart out of Terminal A. Every other flight out of LaGuardia, including to Los Angeles, departs out of Terminal C. LaGuardia flyers will know Terminal C is heavily utilized by Delta Air Lines.
LaGuardia is governed by a perimeter rule. For nearly 40 years, the airport has been restricted to handle flights only within a 1,500-mile radius from the airport as a means to reduce congestion and push airlines toward New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK).
There are two exceptions to this rule. The first is the flight to Denver, and the second is on Saturdays. On Saturdays, the perimeter rule is relaxed, and airlines can add leisure flying on a day where traffic is usually lower at the primarily business-centric airport.
The inaugural flight
Early in the morning on June 12th, I made my way to LaGuardia’s Terminal C to catch the 07:20 departure to Los Angeles. There is a lot of construction going on at LaGuardia, so plan some extra time in case you take a wrong turn, or you have unfamiliarity with the airport.
Terminal C is home to Delta Air Lines, WestJet, Frontier Airlines, and Spirit. Delta dominates. Spirit Airlines has a baggage drop-off and check-in counter located on the left-hand side of security when entering.
If you are flying this summer, plan to arrive at the airport early to get through security. Plenty of passengers on the flight to Los Angeles felt the bottleneck here. You can save on time through security by enrolling in CLEAR or TSA PreCheck for expedited security screening. I have both, so I was through security in minutes.
There was not much pomp and circumstance at the gate to celebrate the inaugural flight, though there was clearly a buzz among the employees.
Boarding started about 45 minutes before departure and was efficient. It seemed that much of the aircraft was going out empty (despite the seat map showing it as an almost full flight). Then, however, the plane started to fill up as passengers were held up with the long security line.
Onboard, Spirit Airlines outfits its Airbus A320neos with room for 182 passengers. The Airbus A320neo is the next-generation version of the popular Airbus A320 family, and Spirit Airlines is a major customer of this type. The carrier has even ramped up deliveries of the aircraft over the next few years.
I chose to book in Spirit’s Big Front Seat for the flight to Los Angeles, which was a great deal. I paid under $200 for the one-way flight with the upgrade. This is essentially a domestic first class style of hard product, though it does not have any other frills.
Our flight time across the country was just under five hours and 15 minutes. We departed roughly on time and landed in Los Angeles about 20 minutes ahead of schedule in what has to be one of the smoothest landings I have ever experienced.
The flight is blocked to depart LaGuardia at 07:20 and arrive in Los Angeles at 10:10 (all times are local). The return flight departs LAX at 13:27 and arrives in LaGuardia at 21:52 (all times are local).
Given the length of this flight, Spirit’s flight attendants conduct multiple services down the aisle. Passengers will have to pay for food and beverages, though if you have Gold Status, you can get a complimentary inflight snack and nonalcoholic beverage.
What was really special was the flight attendants. In the last few weeks, as passengers have retaken to the skies, I have had some very excited and happy crew, glad to welcome people back onboard. The same was true on this flight, though the flight attendants were even more enthused about the airline’s new loyalty program and provided plenty of detailed information about it inflight.
Spirit’s flight is an argument for lifting the rule
The adage “show not tell” rings true. While some airlines have pushed hard for lifting the perimeter rule at LaGuardia in the last decade, no airline has serviced the LGA-LAX route in nearly 15 years.
There are many reasons why airlines would not want to fly once a week on this route. First and foremost, a weeklong trip starting on Saturdays generally targets a leisure-oriented customer base. Still, the New York to Los Angeles market is also a heavy business travel market.
Seeking consistency, airlines tend to schedule their transcontinental operations out of either New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) or Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) over in New Jersey.
The problem with this route is that there is no low-cost competition on the route. While there are some deals to be had on this route, finding something comparable to what Spirit Airlines charges with the potential buy-up to the Big Front Seat is very difficult.
New York-JFK is far too expensive of an airport for Spirit Airlines to operate from. Plus, it has a reputation of being mostly an international and business-oriented airport, not the crowd that Spirit is necessarily going after.
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Meanwhile, Newark is not easily accessible for a large swath of New York City-area travelers. While it is considered an area airport and United Airlines has tried to push the airport hard as an option for New Yorkers, United’s return to JFK shows a significant market that is not willing to trek over to New Jersey to catch a transcontinental flight.
The other options are much further away from New York City and include Long Island MacArthur Airport in Islip (ISP), Stewart International Airport (SWF), and Westchester County Airport (HPN). Unfortunately, none of these are very viable options for targeting New York City travelers.
While airlines battle out for premium customers on the route, Spirit Airlines can offer a low-fare alternative to fly between New York City and Los Angeles, which is unavailable otherwise. Save for avgeeks like myself, there is little overlap between the customers who fly JetBlue Mint, Delta One, United Polaris, or American’s Flagship First to Los Angeles and Spirit’s customers.
At the end of the day, willing to try a once-a-week flight, Spirit Airlines has shown what things could be like if the perimeter rule at LaGuardia were lifted in a manner that enabled for additional low-cost growth in the New York area. However, whether that rule will be lifted or relaxed remains to be seen and is not without opposition.
Would you fly Spirit between LaGuardia and Los Angeles? Do you think LaGuardia’s perimeter rule should be relaxed? Let us know in the comments!