Frontier Airlines announces major expansion at RDU

Frontier Airlines is adding nonstop flights to six new cities at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, an expansion that will make it a larger player at the airport.

Denver-based Frontier announced Thursday that it will add flights from RDU to Buffalo, Houston, Milwaukee, New Orleans, San Antonio and San Juan, Puerto Rico. The nonstops to Buffalo, Milwaukee, San Antonio and San Juan will be the only ones from RDU, and bring the number of nonstop destinations from the Triangle to 53. The flights will start the second week of April.

Rob Teer, a board member with the RDU Authority, said Frontier’s expansion was a big deal for the airport. “What we want to do is provide as many nonstop options for our customers as we can,” Teer said Thursday.

Frontier’s announcement at RDU was one of several the company made across the country Thursday, as the low-cost airline embarks on a nationwide expansion. Tyri Squyres, the vice president of marketing, said Frontier has more than 200 new Airbus jets on order and expects to triple in size over the next decade.

“If this service is supported, and we see demand continue to grow as we’re seeing, you can expect us to come back with more announcements,” Squyres said just after she disclosed the new destinations.

Since it began offering flights to Trenton, N.J., in 2013, Frontier has remained a small player at RDU. The airline accounted for just 2.3 percent of the more than 11.6 million passengers who flew in and out of the Triangle last year.

Frontier offers daily nonstops to and from Las Vegas, and nonstop flights to Orlando four days a week and to Austin three days a week. Seasonal nonstop flights to Trenton will resume in April, along with previously announced new nonstop service to Cincinnati, Kansas City and Providence, R.I. All the new flights will be available on limited days of the week.

The new nonstops will bring Frontier’s total destinations from RDU to 15, making it the No. 2 airline in terms of destinations at the airport. Delta is No. 1 with 25 destinations.

Four of the six flights Frontier announced Thursday are to cities RDU has considered underserved, because they’re the ultimate destination for many Triangle travelers who must get a connecting flight. The top five underserved cities on RDU’s list are San Diego, San Juan, Portland, Ore., San Jose and Sacramento.

RDU was already the best-connected midsize airport in the country, said Joe Milazzo, executive director of the Regional Transportation Alliance, a business group associated with the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce. Nonstop flights are important because they provide flexibility and reduce uncertainty, particularly for business travelers for whom time is money, Milazzo said.

“Having these destinations – and these are important cities, every one of them – makes that web of connections for us, that network, stronger,” he said.

Frontier is promoting its new service from RDU with $29 one-way fares on flights booked by Monday and flown by June 13. As with all Frontier flights, checked baggage and advance seat assignments cost extra.

Squyres said Frontier expects that its low fares will encourage people to fly.

“We kind of make the pie bigger, if you will,” she said, describing the market for travelers in the region. “Yeah, we have a small overlap with the other carriers. But what we really hope to do is stimulate demand and create a larger marketplace and more travelers coming through the airport.”

Richard Stradling: 919-829-4739, @RStradling