You've probably heard by now that Frontier Airlines is discontinuing its non-stop services from Brookley Field to the airline's hub in Denver. But there is still plenty of time to catch a cheap flight to Denver or beyond. Service will continue through April 22nd, so there's still three months to take that ski vacation to the Rocky Mountains. And to take your first flight from Mobile's Downtown Airport (BFM) at Brookley Field. Once you've flown from BFM, you'll understand why the City of Mobile and Mobile Airport Authority are still enthusiastic about the new passenger terminal. The Federal Aviation Administration is on board, as well, and they're funding a master plan that will help lay the groundwork to move all local passenger services there.
Flights on Frontier aren't expensive, but the fare you pay doesn't get you much more than a seat and the floor space underneath the seat in front of you. You'll pay extra for everything else, from choosing your own seat to your carry-on luggage. It's true a la carte pricing. That's both good and bad. If you pack light and don't care where you sit, you can fly for very little indeed. If you want to take everything and the kitchen sink, it's going to cost you. But when a round-trip flight can be had for as little as $100 (actually, I've seen them for less than that), I'm not quibbling about a bag fee. And if time allows, I'm looking forward to another weekend in Denver.
Why Frontier Is Leaving
While Frontier Airlines is leaving the Mobile market, a lot of us have been wondering why? The airline cited "a lack of sufficient demand to support the service." But that's not quite true.
The Mobile Airport Authority (MAA) says that Frontier flights from Mobile were actually running at 92% of capacity, known in airline parlance as a "load factor." Forbes reported in 2018 that passenger load factors in the United States were running at 86% -- an all-time high. During the same year, Frontier Airlines had a system-wide load factor of more than 85%, and the airline's best-ever year saw their planes more than 91% full. Are they really trying to tell us that there wasn't sufficient demand? The load factor on this route was above average, even for Frontier in their best year.
Here's what we do know:
- Frontier Airlines is notorious for adding and canceling service at a record pace. When the Denver flights stop running on April 22nd, Frontier will have served Mobile's Downtown Airport for almost (but not quite) one year. They served one airport in New Hampshire for just six months before suspending service, leaving with very little notice. In Mobile's case, we have nearly four months' notice before the airline ends service.
- Frontier Airlines tends to be opportunistic. When they see a new opportunity, they won't hesitate to pounce on it and deal with the fall-out later. This is most likely what happened with Frontier's Mobile-Denver service. Southwest Airlines announced it was ceasing its operations in Newark, one of New York City's three airports, leaving a void that Frontier decided to fill. And just before Christmas, the airline announced 25 new routes from a variety of airports. Three weeks later, after figuring out where the planes to fly those routes would come from, we heard that Frontier would be suspending service from BFM. That is not a coincidence.
- Frontier Airlines is growing aggressively and plans to double in size over the next five years. They are buying a whole bunch of Mobile-built Airbus jets and will use them to fly new routes, expand service on existing routes, and I believe they'll also return to Mobile.
In the meantime, both the city and airport authority are selling the benefits of Mobile Downtown Airport. It's really a case of two steps forward, one step back. We took a couple of big steps when Frontier took a chance on Mobile and showed that Brookley Field service can be a success. In April, we'll take a step back when Frontier departs. But they've given the MAA some data points on how successful flights from BFM can be. And their departure opens up new opportunities for another airline, or airlines. And I'm looking forward to what's next.