Spirit Airlines giving big four domestic carriers reason to worry

By   –  Reporter, Chicago Business Journal
Spirit Airlines suddenly is giving the big four domestic carriers — United Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines— something to really worry about.

Buried in the latest on-time arrival results is ultra-low-cost carrier Spirit’s on-time performance for the month. And the results are a stunner in a good way for Spirit.

The carrier, which operates about 35 flights a day from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, finished the month with 87.1 percent of its flights arriving on time, according to OAG’s October report. The United States Department of Transportation considers a flight to have arrived on time if it reaches the gate within 14 minutes of its scheduled arrival time.

Spirit’s October on-time arrival performance put the carrier ahead of even top performer Delta Air Lines (NYSE: DAL), which finished October with 86.3 percent of flights arriving on-time.

Spirit Airline’s (NASDAQ: SAVE) on-time performance was also nearly 3 percentage points better than that of Chicago-based United Airlines (NYSE: UAL) and more than 3 percentage points better than low-fare behemoth Southwest Airlines (NYSE: LUV).

In an industry where on-time performance is important to many consumers, Spirit is suddenly performing at a remarkably high level. Granted, Spirit is a much smaller airline than is United, American (NASDAQ: AAL) or Southwest. Spirit operated 13,930 flights in October, compared to 141,851 at United and 112,604 at Southwest.

But Spirit still is operating at a very high level — at least from an on-time arrival perspective. Many customers, however, balk at Spirit’s policy of charging extra for almost everything beyond the airline seat itself.

Nonetheless, Spirit has big expansion plans — planning to add 125 new routes and 60 new aircraft over the next five years — ensuring the carrier will continue to be a threat to the four major domestic carriers for some time to come.

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