Frontier Airlines’ decision to end service this week from Wilmington-New Castle for the second time in seven years came as no big surprise. One sign was the small number of cars and trucks in the airport parking lot and mostly only two non-stop per week.
The light flight schedule did not lend itself to aggressive promotions and it became easy to forget that Frontier had come to town.
Returning to Delaware and taking heat for the previous abrupt departure, Frontier pledged to give the service time to build traffic. Given the state of the industry, the airline has made at least a modest effort.
That was a far cry from eight years ago, when Frontier (briefly) served a number of cities from Wilmington-New Castle. On his first brief stay, we flew to Phoenix via Denver. Service was great but came before Frontier started charging for everything except bathroom use. (That could be next).
At the time, Frontier’s strategy seemed flawed, compounded by the limitations of an old New Castle terminal that appears stalled in the 1950s and 60s. The airport operator, the Delaware River and Bay Authority made work to modernize the interior.
On paper, the latest strategy seemed solid. After all, Orlando is the Delaware Valley’s premier air destination. If Frontier captured a modest portion of this traffic from Wilmington-New Castle, the service would reduce direct competition from Philadelphia.
With only one destination, any congestion at the New Castle terminal would be minimal.
Then came Covid-19, which delayed service from Delaware.
By the time the route launched in 2021, airlines faced a host of challenges, despite a flood of federal funds keeping the carriers out of bankruptcy court.
As passengers return, the staff shortages that were a problem before Covid are getting even worse.
Frontier also found success at Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) and chose not to back down from a four-way battle for passengers from Orlando to Philly with American, Spirit and Southwest. On some days, Frontier’s nonstop number matches the number of American, the 800-pound gorilla in Philadelphia.
American’s schedule reductions and Frontier’s fuel-efficient jets have also opened up options to other cities, with the carrier now serving more than 30 destinations from PHL.
In commenting on Frontier’s departure, the Wilmington-New Castle airport operator, the River and Bay Authority, pointed to another factor, the proposed merger between Spirit Airlines and Frontier.
Currently, the two low-cost airlines combined have up to 10 daily flights to Orlando from PHL, a number that would decrease with a merger.
Frontier also offers two nonstop connections to Orlando from Trenton, an airport located on the outer edge of PHL’s service territory.
The DRBA expressed the hope that once the merger is somehow resolved, Wilmington-New Castle might come into play again.
It could happen, but right now Frontier has big plans in the Delaware Valley that don’t include Delaware. Doug Rainey, Content Director.