Insufficient Bookings Undermine Frontier’s Columbia Service

Columbia is one of several smaller markets in which Frontier Airlines has recently decided to discontinue service. | Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

The decision by Frontier Airlines to discontinue its flights from Columbia Regional Airport in May was met with surprise by airport officials Sunday, but industry analysts say the move makes sense.

Frontier, which started service from Columbia to Orlando, Fla. in November, will not offer flights to or from Columbia after May 13. Airport officials first became aware of the situation from fliers who were trying to book flights on the airline’s website past May 13, which brings up a notice that informs customers of the discontinuation. An airport press release called Frontier’s decision “sudden and unexpected.”

Even though Frontier announced earlier this month that it was adding a third weekly direct flight from Columbia to Orlando, Columbia mayor Bob McDavid said in an interview Monday with KBIA radio that he had been worried about the Frontier situation for some time. McDavid said he was concerned about sales from Frontier’s low-price tickets not making up for the costs incurred flying 951 miles from Columbia to Orlando.

Those concerns were corroborated by the airline. Frontier spokesperson Kate O’Malley said Monday that the company was losing money on the flights and that people weren’t paying high enough fares to keep the operation viable. “Bookings were not meeting expectations for the market,” she said.

Robert Herbst, an airline industry analyst, said the move was unsurprising. “It’s happening to a lot of communities all across the country and the the Midwest,” he said.

Herbst said that many airlines are pulling out of airports like Columbia’s because they simply cannot make enough money to cover the costs of fuel and maintenance involved in providing service to smaller markets.

Columbia is not alone in losing Frontier. The airline has recently announced plans to cut service to Colorado Springs; Dayton, Ohio; and Louisville, Ky., the Denver Post reports.

Airline industry analyst George Hamlin said Frontier is a “survivor” that is constantly “willing to experiment with different possibilities” outside its home base in Denver, but Columbia was an experiment that didn’t pan out.

Frontier is the second carrier to discontinue its Columbia service recently. Delta, which once offered service from Columbia to Memphis and Atlanta, left for good on Feb. 13.

On Feb. 14, the airport welcomed American Airlines, which offers flights from mid-Missouri to Chicago and Dallas. McDavid said the business they will bring is the primary focus of the airport now.

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