US Winners: Frontier And Allegiant Lead The Airline Recovery Push

Both Frontier and Allegiant have 8%+ more capacity between March and June 2021 than in the same months in 2019, with these ultra-low-cost-carriers – and Spirit – really standing out. Frontier is up the most, despite its route map reducing from 373 to 311.

Frontier A320
Frontier, Allegiant, and Spirit are most optimistic in the next few months. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying.

US airlines carried 369 million passengers in 2020, a reduction of 557 million over the year before, Bureau of Transportation Statistics revealed this month. Coronavirus-hit 2020 had the fewest passengers since the mid-1980s, it found.

Between March and June 2019, before anyone knew that coronavirus would attack, the 11 largest US airlines had 386.7 million seats between them. The same four months in 2021 shows that 318.2 million seats are scheduled, according to analysis of OAG data, down by 18%. Airlines are now looking to the future, buoyed by the vaccination program gathering speed and confidence growing.

Yet how each airline is responding varies enormously by the specific airline – and, to a certain extent, by model. And while the data may change, it does reveal a fairly clear picture – for now.

 March 2021 vs. March 2019April 2021 vs. April 2019May 2021 vs. May 2019June 2021 vs. June 2019
Alaska Airlines-24%-23%-19%-5%
American Airlines-31%-24%-19%12%
Delta Air Lines-32%-29%-26%-4%
Hawaiian Airlines-54%-45%-36%-3%
Sun Country-22%-18%-8%-11%
United Airlines-45%-45%-9%1%

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Frontier and Allegiant lead (for now)

In these four months, three ultra-low-cost-carriers (ULCCs) – Frontier, Allegiant, and Spirit – have pushed ahead. If the months are combined, each will have capacity than in the same months in pre-pandemic 2019. In many parts of the world, ULCCs are known for being nimble and adaptable, where they can be. This seems to be the case here too. Simple Flying previously showed that Allegiant has added 125 routes since 2019, although this is for full years.

US airline development
Up or down, it’s an across-the-board change. Source: OAG Schedules Analyzer.

Frontier has 311 routes

With capacity up by 8.5% versus March-June 2019, Frontier is the most ‘optimistic’ airline so far. This is strongly influenced by March (+11%) and April (+14%), while May and June have more modest increases.

Frontier has 311 routes across these four months, with 147 routes added versus 2019. However, it gets more interesting when it is considered that its route map is down from 373, meaning 209 routes have been cut or pushed back until later this year.

Frontier's route map
Frontier’s route map between March and June 2021. Image: OAG.

Capacity is still up by 677,000 seats

Frontier has often been accused of having a ‘dartboard approach’ to route development, although high route churn is, to a degree, also from its intolerance to inadequate performance – crucial for a primarily point-to-point-focused ULCC, especially away from Denver. Trying, monitoring, adapting as necessary, and, if needed, moving on are key traits of the carrier.

Despite the fall in routes, its capacity is still up by 8.5%, equivalent to 677,000 more seats in these four months. This has mainly come about from its top-10 airports collectively adding 17% more seats between them, although offset by cuts elsewhere.

Frontier A320
Frontier’s growth is mainly from its top-10 airports growing by 17%. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying.

Multiple airports have grown strongly

Some 109 airports comprise Frontier’s network in these four months. Denver is naturally top, despite the ULCC’s focus on the Colorado airport reducing considerably since the middle of the last decade, as it transformed into a ULCC and pursued fast growth, often involving unserved, low-frequency, and point-to-point routes elsewhere.

Orlando, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Miami, Phoenix, Atlanta, Tampa, Chicago O’Hare, and Fort Myers complete its top-10 list. Several have grown strongly since 2019, including Las Vegas (seats up by 55%), Orlando (+31%), Tampa (+27%), and Philadelphia (+21%). While some have grown from a stronger presence on existing routes, Las Vegas’ growth was also from a net increase of nine routes, taking its total to 43.

Frontier A320
Chicago O’Hare is one of Frontier’s few main airports to decline. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying.

Miami stands out

Miami is now Frontier’s fifth-largest airport, up from 25 back in 2019. The ULCC has grown at Miami by 171% from its route portfolio rising from five to 24. Cancun, Punta Cana, and St Thomas all began in March 2021, while Guatemala City and San Salvador both begin in April.