New low-cost carrier to fly from MSP

  • Article by: PAT DOYLE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 28, 2012 - 12:55 PM

Airport officials were tight-lipped about which carrier was wooed to boost competition and lower fares -- but signs point to Spirit.

Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport has landed another low-cost airline, the culmination of government efforts to foster competition and reduce fares.

While airport officials would not reveal the company, it appears to be Spirit Airlines, which flies to a variety of domestic and foreign locations. The new carrier is expected to join Southwest, Sun Country and AirTran airlines at the low-fare Humphrey Terminal.

"Anytime we can get more competition in the market to drive prices down and make flying more economical, that's just a better service," said MAC Executive Director Jeffrey Hamiel. "If you're Delta, Sun Country or Southwest, it's not good news."

On Monday, airport officials narrowed the identity of the new airline to Spirit and JetBlue.

When contacted, JetBlue denied it was moving into the Minneapolis-St. Paul market, while Spirit did not return phone calls about its plans.

The carrier will be identified at a formal announcement on Wednesday. "What they want to do is have the surprise effect of a new service announcement," Hamiel said.

The new airline would offer flights to two U.S. cities but could add routes, said Dan Boivin, the Airports Commission chairman. For now, it won't offer direct flights from Minneapolis to foreign locations.

Spirit Airlines flies to numerous U.S. cities, including Chicago, Denver, Dallas, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Washington, and Portland, Ore. It also flies to locations in the Caribbean and Latin America.

The arrival of another low-cost airline is welcome news for travelers at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, which has had some of the highest fares in the nation. Delta Air Lines' dominance in the market and a lack of competition on Midwestern routes have been blamed for MSP ranking as high as 11th among the top 100 cities in the nation last year in average fares. It most recently ranked 20th.

Gov. Mark Dayton talked about increasing competition at the airport, and Boivin has made it a priority after becoming MAC chairman last year. In recent years, the airport has made overtures to JetBlue, Lufthansa and British Airways.

Landing the new airline took several years, according to airport spokesman Patrick Hogan. "It's part of our overall effort to bring in more competition," he said.

The success or failure of the new low-fare airline at MSP will depend in large part on whether it can survive in whatever markets it shares with Delta, which can match low fares in selected markets while attracting customers with a large frequent-flier award program.

Last year, shortly after Sun Country announced a new route from MSP to Costa Rica, Delta jumped into the market with its own nonstop to that country from MSP.

"It really bugs me," Boivin said at the time.

The airport's long-range expansion plan calls for turning over the main Lindbergh terminal to Delta and its partner airlines and moving American, United and others to Humphrey with the low-cost airlines.

Pat Doyle • 612-673-4504

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