Frontier Airlines, the fastest growing carrier at Raleigh-Durham International Airport last year, is adding flights to eight more destinations from RDU this spring.
Frontier on Monday announced nonstop flights to Columbus, Jacksonville and Tampa as well as five destinations in the Northeast: Philadelphia, Boston, Hartford, Albany and Long Island MacArthur Airport, about 50 miles east of Manhattan. Three of those airports — Albany, Jacksonville and Long Island — are not now served by nonstop flights from RDU.
Boston, Columbus and Tampa flights start May 1, and the others on April 30.
Frontier added flights to 18 destinations from RDU last year, as the carrier decided that the Triangle was a good market for its low-cost service aimed primarily at leisure travelers. The addition of eight more destinations means Frontier will fly nonstop to 32 places from RDU, more than any other airline.
Frontier’s growth at RDU has not been without setbacks. The airline will not resume the twice-weekly flights it flew to Harrisburg, Pa., last summer and will end nonstop flights to Kansas City, Austin and San Antonio this year. Kansas City and Austin are also served by Frontier’s top competitor at RDU, Southwest Airlines.
Daniel Shurz, Frontier’s chief commercial officer, said the airline does not hesitate to eliminate routes that aren’t drawing enough customers.
“If it’s not working well, we stop it,” Shurz said in an interview.
But most of the service Frontier has introduced from RDU has done well, Shurz said, and overall Frontier is very pleased with its expansion in the Triangle. The new flights to the Northeast continue one of the airline’s strategies here of flying to places where people moving to the Triangle used to live.
“That creates leisure demand, because people want to visit friends and family where they came from,” Shurz said in an interview with The News & Observer last fall.
Like most of its service from RDU, the eight new flights will operate once a day and only three or four days a week. That means that while Frontier flies to more places from RDU than any other airline, it still handles far fewer passengers than carriers such as Delta, American, United and Southwest, which offer more flights.
Less frequent service is a big reason Frontier appeals less to business travelers, who can’t afford to wait a day or two for a flight to their next meeting. Frontier’s offerings from RDU skew more heavily to vacation destinations, including seasonal service to Jamaica, Mexico, Dominican Republic and Florida, but it offers no direct flights to business hubs such as Chicago, Washington or New York City.
The new four-day-a-week Boston flights might win some business travelers, Shurz said, though Frontier will go head-to-head with Delta, which offers six nonstops between RDU and Boston each weekday and JetBlue, which offers five or six. Frontier’s RDU flights will be among the airline’s first to Boston from any city.
Along with Frontier’s growth nationally have come operational problems that alienate some customers despite the low fares.
The airline has consistently ranked at or near the bottom in on-time performance, canceled flights and passengers denied a seat because of oversold flights, according to data compiled by the U.S. Department of Transportation. In October, the most recent month for which data is available, Frontier had the highest rate of consumer complaints per passenger of any airline, at nearly five times the industry average.
While it struggles to improve the fundamentals, Frontier has also adopted more consumer-friendly policies that don’t add much to its costs. It has reduced or eliminated fees for changing flights more than two weeks in advance, and overhauled its frequent flyer mile program to allow families of up to six people to pool their miles.
“We’re trying to find ways to hold on to more customers,” Shurz said.