Merger Effects on NEO Airports Uncertain

The proposed merger of Spirit and Frontier airlines may affect airline service in Northeast Ohio although local airport officials are unsure as to how.

If the merger occurs the combined carrier would become the largest at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport based on 2021 passenger traffic for the two carriers.

In 2021, United Airlines with 1.7 million passengers accounted for 23 percent of the passenger traffic at Hopkins.

Frontier and Spirit combined accounted for more than 2 million or 27 percent of the airport’s traffic.

At present Frontier has about 12 percent of the Hopkins traffic, making it the fifth largest carrier from Cleveland. Spirit is the sixth largest.

Frontier flies to 13 destinations from Cleveland while Spirit has 11 destinations. Many of those overlap, particularly the leisure travel markets in Florida, Mexico (Cancun) and Las Vegas.

Hopkins airport director Robert Kennedy told The Plain Dealer that the merger, which would create the fifth largest airline in the United States, could result in more service from Cleveland.

“I don’t see this as a negative. I think it actually could work well for us in terms of new destinations,” he said.

A similar sentiment was expressed by Akron-Canton Airport head Ren Camacho.

Saying there are many unknowns about the merger, Camacho told WKSU-FM, “We remain cautiously optimistic that this could bode well for the Akron-Canton Airport as Spirit Airlines has been a longtime partner with us, and we will continue to work with our partners at Spirit Airlines to maintain service at CAK as this potential merger continues to unfold.”

Frontier flew from Akron-Canton for six years but left there in 2012 in favor of serving Hopkins.

Spirit has a handful of flights from CAK, including year-around service to Orlando, Florida, and seasonal service to the Florida cities of Tampa and Fort Myers, and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

The merger of Spirit and Frontier is subject to U.S. government review. The carriers have not revealed the name or headquarters of the proposed merged carrier. They hope to complete their merger in late 2022.

The two airlines are similar in that they offer low base fares but impose fees for such things as checked luggage and advance seat assignments.

Robert Mann, president of R.W. Mann & Company, a consulting firm based in New York, told The Plain Dealer both Spirit and Frontier have developed reputations for reliability and customer service.

The value of the merger has been placed at $6.6 billion. Collectively, the two carriers now fly to 145 destinations in the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean.

Much of the growth of Spirit and Frontier at Hopkins came after United Airlines closed a hub there in 2014 and dropped dozens of flights and destinations.

Also expanding in Cleveland in the wake of the United hub closure was discount fare carrier Allegiant Air.

However, Allegiant ended service to Cleveland in January and plans to resume serving Akron-Canton Airport in March.

That will give CAK three budget carriers. Aside from Spirit, Akron-Canton also is served by startup carrier Breeze Airways.

Even before the Spirit-Frontier merger had been announced, Spirit had said it would expand its presence at Hopkins by doubling its counter and gate space.

At the time that announcement was made in late 2021, Spirit said it would say later why it was expanding its physical presence at the airport, which suggested it planned to expand its flights and destinations from Cleveland.

From Cleveland, Frontier now flies to Atlanta; Charleston, South Carolina; Cancun, Mexico; Denver; Las Vegas; Orlando; Miami; Phoenix; Punta Cana, Dominican Republic; Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina; Fort Myers; Sarasota; and Tampa.

Spirit flies from Cleveland to Atlanta, Cancun, Fort Lauderdale, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Orlando, Miami, New Orleans, Myrtle Beach, Fort Myers and Tampa.

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