DOT Issues United And Spirit With Service Level Exemptions

United and Spirit have both received additional service exemptions from the US Department of Transportation (DOT). United has received one for Aguadilla in Puerto Rico through September 30th, while Spirit received one through September 30th at Latrobe in Pennsylvania.

United and Spirit Getty
United and Spirit have received service exemptions from the DOT. Photo: Getty Images

Spirit’s exemption request

Spirit Airlines requested a temporary suspension of service from September 8th through 30th at Latrobe, Pennsylvania. The airline highlighted that the Arnold Palmer Regional Airport (LBE) in Latrobe will be conducting runway improvements between September 8th and 25th, leaving aircraft physically unable to serve the airport. Spirit requested a suspension through the 30th in the case that the completion date is delayed.

The DOT approved the exemption since Spirit cannot reasonably or practically serve Latrobe between September 8th and 30th. However, if the runway project is completed by the 25th, then Spirit can reinstate services on September 26th if it so chooses.

Stay informed: Sign up for our daily aviation news digest.

Spirit a320
Spirit flies to leisure destinations in the American Southeast out of Latrobe. Photo: Getty Images

If you’ve never heard of Latrobe, Pennsylvania, you’ll be forgiven. Spirit Airlines is the only carrier that flies out of Latrobe. Spirit serves four destinations nonstop out of LBE, all but one of which are in Florida. This includes Fort Lauderdale (FLL), Fort Myers (RSW), Myrtle Beach (MYR), Orlando (MCO), and Tampa (TPA). Not all destinations are served year-round by Spirit, which is a low-cost carrier that caters to leisure travelers.

Latrobe is not too far from Pittsburgh, the second-largest city in Pennsylvania. Spirit Airlines does also fly out of Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT), which is about 60-or-so miles away from LBE. Arnold Palmer Regional Airport is a pretty inexpensive airport to operate out of, which is likely part of the business reason why Spirit flies both to PIT and LBE.

Spirit Airlines
Passenger can catch one of Spirit’s bright yellow planes out of either PIT or LBE, whichever one suits their needs better. Photo: Getty Images

Latrobe is also infamous as being the departure airport from which a Spirit Airlines’ guest wore a questionable face covering. Earlier in the crisis, Spirit also ran flights from Pittsburgh to Latrobe to Orlando to comply with service requirements.

United’s exemption request

United Airlines requested an exemption to service at Aguadilla in Puerto Rico through September 30th. Rafael Hernandez Airport (BQN) in Aguadilla is closed until January 1st, 2021. Based on the fact that United cannot operate into BQN, it made sense for the DOT to grant this exemption. From Aguadilla, United operates nonstop to Newark-Liberty International Airport (EWR).

United Airlines Newark
United has requested other service exemptions in the past as well that were granted. Photo: Getty Images

The Governor of Puerto Rico requested that the FAA permit flight restrictions to divert all scheduled and unscheduled commercial passenger flights to San Juan Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (SJU) for screening to hep contain viral spread on the island from tourists.

United 737
United Airlines flies between Newark and Aguadilla. Photo: Getty Images

Nearing the end of service exemption requests

Back in March, the airline financial assistance package from the US government required airlines to continue to provide minimum essential air services during the crisis to ensure that no communities lost air travel links that may be essential for the movement of goods and people.

Airlines could request some levels of exemptions. Even though a carrier does receive a waiver, the airline is not forced to follow through with a suspension. If the situation changes and it becomes practical for an airline to fly to a destination again, they may be able to operate even though they have a service exemption.

As that federal assistance package is set to end on September 30th, airlines will not need to request exemptions from service from the DOT after that. Instead, they will be able to drop cities as they see fit. American Airlines has already outlined some preliminary small city cuts from its network from October.

Do any of these service exemptions impact you? Let us know in the comments!