Spirit Airlines on a Fort Lauderdale tarmac in 2010. This year the discount airline began flying two routes out of MSP; next year it says it’ll add more.
Lynne Sladky, Associated Press
Spirit Airlines to add MSP-Florida flights
- Article by: WALKER MOSKOP
- Star Tribune
- July 18, 2012 - 12:33 AM
Less than two months after setting up shop at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, discounter Spirit Airlines is more than doubling its offerings to Twin Cities travelers.
A day after announcing it would add service from MSP to Dallas next year, the carrier said Tuesday it would also add nonstop flights to Fort Lauderdale and Fort Myers, Fla. The Florida service will be seasonal, and will start in the fall.
Spirit, which offers fares as low as $28.79 and relies heavily on revenue from bag fees and other a la carte charges, currently offers daily flights to Chicago and Las Vegas.
Airport officials hope a larger Spirit presence will push ticket prices down.
"Competition is always good for consumers," said Metropolitan Airports Commission spokesman Pat Hogan, "and the addition of a low-fare carrier like Spirit helps keep the fares down overall."
In 2011, MSP had the 11th-most-expensive average fares among major U.S. airports, according to the federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Difficulty attracting low-cost carriers and the dominance of Delta Air Lines, which transports nearly 80 percent of passengers at the airport, have contributed to high prices.
Smaller airlines have been hesitant to take on Delta, which could drop its own prices to make it tough for new carriers to establish themselves.
With its three additional flights, Spirit is unlikely to have much impact on overall fares at MSP, analysts said, but could put slight pressure on other airlines to lower fares for the destinations where the discounter offers flights.
For example, this will be the first time MSP travelers will have a competitive option for flights to Fort Lauderdale, which has been served only by Delta.
Bob Herbst, founder of AirlineFinancials.com, said he doesn't expect many passengers to ditch Delta and other major carriers for the no-frills discounter. "Spirit takes people who would have taken the bus or wouldn't have flown anyway," he said.
Smaller airlines such as Southwest Airlines and Sun Country Airlines are more likely to be concerned about competition from Spirit, Herbst said.
Spirit's model is based on selling heavily discounted fares and drawing large amounts of revenue -- 31 percent of its operating sales -- from ancillary charges such as beverages and overhead bag fees.
"We've had a great response from the local community," said Spirit spokeswoman Misty Piston, "and they're really responding favorably to our lower fares."
Spirit hopes to grow its fleet, currently at 42 planes, by 15 to 20 percent each year for the next several years.
Spirit will draw some customers willing to "trade down," said Bob McAdoo, an analyst for Imperial Capital. But the airline offers a product that larger carriers have trouble matching, he said, and in some cases, don't want to match.
"They let [discounters] do their thing," McAdoo said, "on the assumption that the customers who choose to fly on Spirit are not the primary objective for a Delta."
In an e-mail, Delta spokesman Trebor Banstetter said that the carrier competes "vigorously" with other airlines at MSP, and that fliers turn to Delta for its global network and in-flight amenities like comfort seating and Wi-Fi.
Spirit, based in Miramar, Fla., will offer seasonal, daily flights between MSP and Fort Lauderdale and Fort Myers from Nov. 8 to April 24.
Starting April 25, 2013, Spirit will offer flights to Dallas four days a week, with the service increasing to daily on June 13.
Walker Moskop 612-673-4265
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