JetBlue-Spirit Merger Affect on NEO Uncertain

The proposed merger of JetBlue and Spirit Airlines may affect service to both Cleveland Hopkins and Akron-Canton airports although it remains to be seen how that will play out.

Last week JetBlue and Spirit agreed to merge after an earlier merger of Spirit with Frontier Airlines fell through.

JetBlue and Spirit both serve Hopkins and Spirit once had flights to Akron-Canton. The latter service has been suspended until November.

A Hopkins official in an interview with The Plain Dealer expressed hope that a combined JetBlue-Spirit would result in route expansion from Cleveland.

“The demand is there,” said John Hogan, deputy chief of marketing and air service development for Cleveland Hopkins. “I don’t believe we’ll be left behind.”

As for Akron-Canton airport officials, they are taking a wait and see approach.

Lisa Dalpiaz, vice president of marketing and air service development at Akron-Canton Airport, also noted that the JetBlue-Spirit merger still needs approval of Spirit’s shareholders and will likely be reviewed by federal officials for antitrust concerns. That process could take up to two years.

JetBlue began flying to Hopkins in 2015 with routes to Boston and Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

In 2020, JetBlue briefly flew from Cleveland to Fort Myers. This year it has suspended its Fort Lauderdale service but continues to serve Boston.

Hogan acknowledged during the Plain Dealer interview, that airport officials have been disappointed that JetBlue has not been more aggressive in expanding service at Hopkins.

On the other hand, Spirit has undergone major route expansions from Hopkins since landing there in 2014 after United Airlines closed its Cleveland hub.

Spirit currently flies from Cleveland to nine destinations. It also expanded its boarding gate and ticket counter facilities at Hopkins in anticipation of further route expansion but to date that has not occurred.

Destinations served by Spirit from Cleveland include Orlando, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Las Vegas, Atlanta, Myrtle Beach (South Carolina) Dallas-Fort Worth and Los Angeles.

JetBlue has never served Akron-Canton. Spirit suspended service to CAK in early summer, citing staffing issues.

Dalpiaz said Spirit plans to resume service from Akron-Canton to Orlando in November. It is unclear if other winter seasonal service by Spirit to Tampa and Fort Myers in Florida also will operate next winter.

If the JetBlue-Spirit merger occurs as planned it would be the fifth largest carrier at Hopkins with 14 percent of the market.

Industry observers have noted that JetBlue and Spirit differ in significant ways and it remains to be seen how those differences will be reconciled.

JetBlue is known for superior customer service and its planes offer more generous legroom, complimentary snacks and beverages, and in-flight entertainment.

Spirit offers more of a bare bones service with cramped seats, no in-flight entertainment and extra fees for carry-on bags and seat assignments.

Michael Boyd, President of Boyd Group International Aviation Forecasting & Consulting, told WOIO-TV in Cleveland that JetBlue is more of a commuter airline focused on larger airports while Spirit has been a discount airline since their inception.

He predicted that a combined JetBlue-Spirit would result in fewer low-cost seats from Cleveland.

However, Boyd said other discount carriers, such as Frontier, could come in to fill the void.

Hogan said the percentage of occupied seats on flights serving Hopkins in recent weeks has approached 90 percent.

“The passengers are out there,” he said. “Once things settle down as far as staffing, I believe growth will continue, regardless of carrier. The demand is there.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: