Spirit Airlines eyes more connecting flights, less reliance on Florida as it attempts business turnaround

  • Post author:
  • Post category:Travel

Spirit Airlines is moving forward again after several years of “inertia” following the coronavirus pandemic and the carrier’s failed merger attempt with JetBlue, chief commercial officer Matt Klein said.

Top of the list for the Florida-based carrier is returning to the black after accumulating more than $2 billion in net losses since 2020. A big part of that turnaround is reworking Spirit’s route map in order to boost revenue and cut unnecessary expenses.

That means you can expect more connecting flights in places like Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL) and Las Vegas’ Harry Reid International Airport (LAS) and less flying to the competitive — and increasingly delay-prone — Florida market beginning this summer, Klein said on the sidelines of the Routes Americas conference March 20.

Want more airline-specific news? Sign up for TPG’s free biweekly Aviation newsletter.

“We had a lot of curveballs thrown our way in the last couple of years,” he said. “We were stuck in neutral for a while for a variety of reasons. … You can’t stand still, you’ve got to move forward.”

The pandemic. A failed merger. Issues with Pratt & Whitney engines that have grounded 15 airplanes and counting. The list of challenges Spirit, once one of the most profitable airlines in the U.S., has faced is long.

Not to mention, the carrier has $1.3 billion in debt due next year. That’s significantly more than the $863 million in cash that it had on hand at the end of December.

The airline is still growing, but its schedule will be flat to grow in the “mid-single digits,” or around 5%, this year. That compares to 15% year-over-year growth in 2023.

Spirit focuses on adding flight connections

“We’re going to start looking at doing some more intentional connectivity in some cities,” Klein said. “The reason for that is being able to try some new routes out, or bring back some routes we’ve done in the past. If [the routes] have proper connectivity, that allows for more revenue generation.”

Fort Lauderdale, a large gateway to the Caribbean and Latin America for Spirit, and Las Vegas are cities where it could expand flight connections, Klein said. Other unnamed cities could also see more connectivity, though he declined to name any additional markets.

Spirit plans to unveil an updated summer schedule that includes more flight connections in the next few weeks, Klein said.

Some routes Spirit previously flew from Fort Lauderdale but does not today include Asheville, North Carolina; Bucaramanga, Colombia; Jacksonville, Florida; Lima, Peru; and Panama City, according to Cirium Diio schedules.

“We’re seeing some changes in Fort Lauderdale now — we’re seeing some capacity get removed by a couple of competitors,” Klein said of the market at the airport.

JetBlue, which competes with Spirit in Fort Lauderdale, recently said it would end flights to Lima; Bogota, Colombia; and Quito, Ecuador, in June as part of a larger network shift. And in October, Southwest Airlines announced that it would move many of its Caribbean and Latin American routes from FLL to Orlando International Airport (MCO) to boost connectivity.

Fewer Florida flights at Spirit

Even as Klein spoke of more “intentional connectivity” in Fort Lauderdale, he also said Spirit plans to trim flying to Florida this summer. And by Florida, his comments were understood to mean primarily in Orlando, which Spirit executives have previously said would see cuts.

Spirit’s reductions in the Sunshine State will include both seasonal cuts — there is less demand for seeing the state’s sights and visiting its beaches during the hot, humid summer — as well as ones in response to air traffic control restrictions and elevated levels of airline competition.

“We’re going to have to start moving some things around,” Klein said. “Part of it is operationally driven, and part of it is also commercially driven where we think there may be better opportunities to match up supply and demand.”

Staffing shortages at the Federal Aviation Administration’s Jacksonville Air Route Traffic Control Center have been an issue for several years. The center manages almost all flights into and out of Florida. But despite the FAA engaging with airlines to reduce flight disruptions, Klein and other airline executives say issues persist.

John Pepper, vice president of corporate development and government affairs at Allegiant Air, also highlighted air traffic control disruptions into and out of Florida at Routes Americas.

Flight delays and cancellations add costs for airlines, from accommodating travelers to repositioning planes and crews. Expenses are something Spirit aims to cut as it focuses on returning to profitability.

Competition to and from Florida is also intense, and airline yields — airfares to travelers — have fallen in many markets. The average airfare in Orlando fell 16% on 15% more seats in the third quarter of 2023 compared to the year before, the latest Bureau of Transportation Statistics data via Cirium Diio shows. Spirit saw average fares — not including ancillary fees — drop 27% in the same period.

“There was way too much capacity in that market,” Brett Snyder, author of the blog Cranky Flier, wrote in February. “Orlando has finally hit a wall.”

Klein declined to say where Spirit plans to put the capacity it removes from Florida, again pointing to the imminent summer schedule update.

“At Spirit, we’re going to have a lot of great things, a lot of exciting stuff coming soon,” he said.

Related reading: