April 27, 2020

DOT Exemptions: Sun Country’s Endless Summer Sounds Better than Frontier’s Winter of Discontent

1 Both Frontier and Sun Country are ultra-low-cost carriers, and both airlines made big requests for exemptions from DOT minimum service guarantees. You’d think they’d be treated the same, but the results couldn’t be more different. Sun Country saw 24 of its 25 exemption requests approved while Frontier only had 3 of its 34. Why? It appears to be an issue of seasonality.

Sun Country chose to use its summer schedule as a baseline, and DOT found that reducing Sun Country’s obligations for a couple months would be just fine. The airline can suspend service until June 21 in Baltimore (BWI), Boston (BOS), Chicago/O’Hare (ORD, Dallas/Ft. Worth (DFW), Denver (DEN), Honolulu (HNL), Los Angeles (LAX), Nashville (BNA), Newark (EWR), Portland (PDX), San Diego (SAN), San Francisco (SFO), Seattle (SEA) and St. Louis (STL). It can also delay seasonal service starts until June 21 in Anchorage (ANC), Austin (AUS), Madison (MSN), Sacramento (SMF), San Antonio (SAT) and San Juan (SJC).

Then, in one final victory lap, DOT granted Sun Country the authority to reduce service from 3x weekly to a sole weekly flight in Las Vegas (LAS), Orlando (MCO) and Phoenix (PHX). The only loss the airline took was that its request to reduce service to Ft. Myers (RSW) was denied. 

Meanwhile, Frontier chose to use the winter schedule as its baseline, and DOT shut the airline down despite the similarity of its requests to Sun Country. For example, Sun Country asked and was granted the right to delay service to Madison until June 15. Frontier asked and was denied the right to delay service to Madison until June 10.

Frontier was granted an exemption to suspend service through June 10 to four locations: Boston (BOS), Charlotte (CLT), Detroit (DTW), and Providence.  It was also allowed to remove Portsmouth, NH (PSM) from its obligations as Frontier had ceased service to Portsmouth last summer. This feels like a pretty sad consolation prize.

United Fails to Convince DOT With Most Exemption Requests

2 United had asked DOT to approve exemptions for 22 cities, but it only received approval for the 7 that were expected. All flying to Hawaiian neighbor islands, Puerto Rico, and Saipan have been exempted. That’s in line with the requests of those locations as approved for other airlines since visitors are not welcome.

The one outlier was Fairbanks in Alaska which can be delayed until July 6 per the summer seasonal plan. This lends further credence to the idea that DOT is punishing those who chose the winter schedule baseline.

Argentina Won’t Allow Flights Until September 1

3 Proving once again its dysfunctional nature, Argentina has made the strange decision to not allow any tickets to be sold on flights to/from/within Argentina until September 1. A Reuters article suggests that no tickets can be purchased until September 1 regardless of when travel occurs, but local airlines appear to be selling tickets for travel in September now.

A check of Aerolineas Argentinas, LATAM, JetSMART, and Flybondi websites all show flights for sale from September 1. Flights have been largely suspended since Argentina shut down entry into the country in March.

This decree was made due to the uncertainty about when travel could safely resume. Instead of simply allowing airlines to book and requiring refunds be given if cancellations occur, Argentina has instead decided to simply ban all flights. This means Argentina can now proudly say that its actions can even make Norwegian’s previous strategic decisions look good. Norwegian, remember, sold its Argentinian operation previously and got out of the country.

Big 3 US Airlines Begin to Sit Entire Fleets

4 With the prospect of reduced demand extending further and further into the future, airlines have begun working to figure out the best ways to shrink their airlines for the foreseeable future, and in many cases that means parking entire fleet types.

American kicked things off when it grounded its 757 and 767 fleets. The 767s are retired for good while it’s highly likely the 757s will never come back to serve the airline.

Delta has already announced its MD-88s will be retired by the end of July with the MD-90s not far behind. Now it says it will sit its A320s and 737-900s until demand returns. The A320s are one of the older fleets at the airline, so a return is less likely than for the brand new 737-900s.

Meanwhile, United has canceled all 757 and 767 flying from May 4 through early June. Unlike American which was planning to phase these out, United has been investing in these airplanes recently. It has many 767s with brand new interiors including expanded Polaris sections. It just began refitting its 757s as well. In May, the airline is also not scheduling flying on the A320, 737-900, or 777-300ER.

The Bright Side: New Connections For Your Airport as Airlines Struggle with CARES Act Rules

5 In order to comply with government requirements to meet minimum service levels for CARES Act funding, both JetBlue and Spirit are following Alaska’s lead and getting creative. They are all using tag flights to link multiple destinations together in a chain. That may be good news for those of you who actually would use some of these strange routings, though in many cases, the flights aren’t bookable on their own.

JetBlue will be pairing up nearby cities to operated together on service to and from its focus cities.  Examples includes New York/JFK service to Seattle (SEA) and then Portland (PDX) as one flight.  Or also from JFK to San Francisco (SFO) and then Sacramento (SMF). JetBlue’s service from Long Beach (LGB) to JFK will make a stop in Palm Springs (PSP) before continuing on to New York.  

Spirit has taken a similar tact as JetBlue, as it pairs up nearby airports to create triangle flights.  Examples loaded for sale for Spirit include Orlando (MCO) to Pittsburgh (PIT) and Latrobe, PA (LBE). From Fort Lauderdale to Raleigh (RDU) and Charlotte (CLT), and from Chicago (ORD) to both Jacksonville (JAX) and Ft. Myers (RSW).

Both airlines are doing all they can to save money — they might be required to serve unprofitable destinations, but they don’t have to fly planes exclusively to those destinations.

This seems to be catching on. Even United has begun some flights in this pattern like San Juan (SJU) to St Thomas (STT) and Honolulu (HNL) to Hilo (ITO). None of these flights are commercially-viable, and only some can be booked on their own, but if you’re traveling this summer, you might find some interesting new options.

Airline Operation Potpourri

  • American has decided to join the party and require flight attendants wear masks beginning May 1. Extra masks will be stocked for customers who didn’t bring their own but later realized it’s the right thing to do. (Which it is.)
  • Eurowings has canceled all long-haul route launches this summer except for Phoenix which will now get flights to Frankfurt 5x weekly starting August 2. That means Frankfurt-Anchorage/Calgary and Munich-Las Vegas/Orlando are all put on ice.
  • EVA Air has suspended Milan flights for the rest of the year. Italy is going to take a really long time to recover, EVA thinks.
  • Hawaiian will restart daily service from its Honolulu (HNL) hub to Seattle (SEA), beginning May 1 even though the feds gave the airline carte blanche to keep it suspended for longer.
  • LOT Polish has extended its suspension of flying until May 15.
  • Porter has extended its flight suspension through June 29.
  • Singapore will extend its suspension of 96% of its pre-virus schedule through at least June 30.  Its only US destination will continue to be Los Angeles (LAX).
  • Skywest will receive $438 million from the federal government under the Payroll Support Program from the CARES Act.
  • Wizz Air will resume limited operations from London/Luton (LTN) on May 1.

Andrew’s Moment of Levity

I really feel for the kids in the class of 2020 — they always say your senior year goes quickly, but i didn’t realize it would just zoom.