My Frontier chariot arrives DEN – Photo: Kevin Horn
During the year 2016, my partner and were living 1,200 miles apart. We wanted to spend as much time together as possible without missing work or going bankrupt in the process. We needed to take advantage of every chance we came across to spend as much time together as we could. As it turned out, we learned very quickly the ups and downs of this jet-setting lifestyle through lots of flights on low- and ultra-low-cost carriers (LCC and ULCC, respectively). The ULCC business model is not without its share of controversy, but if they werenâ€™t available for us, our year wouldnâ€™t have been nearly as great as it turned out to be.
My partner Natalie and I met in early 2015 while I was stationed at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. I was nearing the end of my assignment to earn a Masterâ€™s degree with a follow-on assignment to Colorado Springs as an instructor at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Natalie was in the middle of a five-year PhD in Clinical Psychology. Through shared passions for adventure and fitness, we hit it off immediately but we also knew that my move to Colorado would be tough. We started traveling to see each other in the fall of 2015, and developed a rhythm of visiting every three weeks or so. These visits were great and fueled both of our passions for travel and adventure. As winter came, we knew we wanted to spend even more time together despite being so far apart during the week.
Back and forth quite a bitÂ – Image: GCMap
For the new year 2016, we set the ambitious goal of seeing each other every other weekend for the entire year. We had two major travel seasons coinciding with the spring and fall semesters of her program. We planned to spend the summer together which would provide a break from the hectic flight schedule and allow time for the bank account and credit card point balances to recharge. With the plan set, we went about attacking a personal travel schedule busier than either of us had ever done before.
An Air India Boeing 747 – Photo: JB | FlickrCC
As a six-year-old kid growing in a tier-2 city in India back in the 90s, the only modes of transportation I was familiar with were trains and buses. Flying was a distant dream, primarily because we had no airport and because flying back then was an expensive luxury only a few could afford.
Fast forward twenty years and there are at least a dozen international airports in India with virtually every important city connected by a domestic airline route. Flights are affordable, perhaps even equivalent to the A/C sleeper coaches on trains. Thanks to the emerging low-cost airlines, the likes of Indigo, Go Air, Air Asia, Spicejet, and more, flying today in India is no more seen as a mark of status that it once was. It has become more of a way for the masses to travel within and out of the worldâ€™s second-most-populous country. But will the young folks flying for the first time today be able to fall in love with aviation as I did in my childhood? Or will they just see it as a basic form of transportation?
A Spirit Airlines Airbus A321 wearing the Bare Fare livery at TPA – Photo: JL Johnson | AirlineReporter
I paid a mere $16.11 for a one-way Spirit Airlines Bare Fare flight from Kansas City to Dallas. Crazy, right? It gets crazierâ€¦ $14.24 of that ticket went to the “Government’s Cut,” (Spirit’s words, not mine) that is,Â various government-imposed fees and taxes. Of the remainder, a single penny went towards the base fare, with the final $1.86 going to what Spirit refers to asÂ “Unintended Consequences of DOT Regulations.” Depending on where you sit on the regulatory fence, the actual revenue fromÂ my Bare FareÂ was either a penny or $1.87.
Spirit Airlines Bare Fare cost structure breakdown – Image: Spirit.com
Either way, the airline was bound to make money off ofÂ me from their various fees, right? After all, that’s what Spirit is known for: evil fees. But, what if I went totally bare and instead just paid only for “ass plus gas” (again, Spirit’s words, not mine). Do people actually do that? I did… for science.
Line up of planes at FLL – Photo: Maarten Visser | Flickr CC
Although Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport (FLL) is a mere 21 miles north of its huge cousin, Miami International Airport (MIA), itâ€™s worlds apart in its focus and business model. FLL is a hub for low-cost carriers (LCCs) and ultra-low-cost carriers (ULCCs), and funnels passengers to nearby Port Everglades, one of the busiest cruise ship terminals in the world. In 2014, FLL saw almost 25 million passengers use its facilities, led by ULCCs and LCCs Allegiant, JetBlue, Southwest, Virgin America, and Spirit, which is based at FLL.
Trans-Atlantic LCC, Norwegian Air Shuttle, also serves FLL with Boeing 787s. A number of U.S., Canadian, and Latin American airlines also provide non-stop scheduled service to FLL, along with seasonal charter carriers.
â€œWe complement MIA,â€ says Allan Siegel, FLLâ€™s Community Outreach Coordinator. â€œBut our landing fees are lower, so our airlines are saving significant costs. That makes us attractive to the LCCs, and in 2014, LCCs handled 62% of our total traffic.â€ The airportâ€™s traffic has grown steadily, up 25% in 10 years, but that growth led to capacity issues, driven by FLLâ€™s configuration.
Benny the Bear, an Airbus A319 on approach for Denver International – Photo: JL Johnson | AirlineReporter
It has been a while since we here at AirlineReporter reviewed a mainline Frontier flight, four years to the month, in fact. Since then, Frontier has beenÂ freedÂ from Indianapolis-based Republic and has made seriousÂ changes to its business model. Denver’s hometown airline and longtime low-cost carrier spent most of 2014 transforming itself into an ultra-low-cost carrier (ULCC). This change was prescribed by the company’s new owners – IndigoÂ Partners. Indigo co-founderÂ William Franke has some experience withÂ ULCCs; in fact he has successfully invested in a number of them,Â most notably Wall Street’s favorite: Spirit.
I have long wanted to experienceÂ Frontier, but the timing and opportunity never worked out. That is until they published a $76 round-trip from Kansas City to Denver. While I wouldn’t necessarily consider myself a “fan” of the ULCC market, domestically they tend to be more interesting than say, the legacies. While I gravitate more to LCCs (like Southwest, Virgin, or JetBlue) it’s fun to checkÂ out their ULCC brethren. LCC and ULCC airlines like to suggest that their competitive prices create demand and with a crazy sub $100 fare, I suddenly found a two-day hole right in the middle of my work week.