Guess the airline

The Metropolitan Airports Commission announced today it will reveal the identity on Wednesday of a new airline that will begin flying into the Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport. Let the speculation begin!

Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal says MAC’s executive director told it last month that MAC was talking to “a few airlines,” including low-cost carriers JetBlue and Spirit.

Let’s guess!

Of the top 15 domestic airlines, only two don’t fly to MSP: JetBlue and Spirit, so the chances are pretty good it’s one of those airlines.

I’m going with Spirit. Check the current route map:

spirit_route_map.jpg

Spirit already has a couple of locations in the Central U.S. and adding Minneapolis St. Paul fills a little bit of a hole in the map. Plus, it flies places… places that are warm, places that are traditionally desired destinations of Minnesotans, including Las Vegas, which might be the most popular destination of Minnesotans.

Moreover, Spirit is all about cheap, especially with its $9 Fare Club. Presently, Minneapolis St. Paul is all about expensive. With very little competition — MSP never experienced the much-touted Southwest Effect — the airport has the 11th highest airline fares in the country.

If you’re an airline looking to take advantage of the entire reason for your existence, Minneapolis St. Paul would be a fine choice. The airline also recently added a crew base in Las Vegas, giving every indication it wants to expand its presence there. A good way to do that is to fly to cities where people want to fly to Vegas.

In the past, however, airlines that have tried to take on Delta’s former airline — Northwest — on the Las Vegas-to-MSP routes have paid a stiff price for doing so.

What about JetBlue? It’s the larger airline and it, too, has made a name for itself with cheap fares. So all of the reasons Spirit would want to fly here are also all of the reasons why JetBlue would find Minneapolis St. Paul attractive too.

But there’s something about the route map that suggests a reluctance to do so:

jetblue_route_map.jpg

JetBlue doesn’t fly to Atlanta. It also doesn’t fly to Detroit or Memphis. Does that indicate a reluctance to go head-to-head with Delta in Delta hubs, of which Minneapolis St. Paul is one?

JetBlue also seems to have a strategy that tends to its bread-and-butter: the East Coast. The airline, based at JFK in New York, is doubling the number of flights at LaGuardia and Reagan after Delta and US Airways swapped landing slots. It’s also doing some expansion along the West Coast, but has always seemed to view the Midwest primarily as “flyover country.”

JetBlue only has two “hubs”: Boston and JFK. Adding Midwest flights doesn’t make a great deal of sense unless it opens a hub closer to the Midwest. Spirit Airlines has hubs in Detroit and Fort Lauderdale. Theoretically, a short hop to Detroit for connections makes more sense for MSP travelers.

If it’s either one of the airlines, expect slim pickings for non-stop service. Southwest started at MSP flying only to Chicago and has expanded it only gradually. Neither Spirit nor JetBlue have the capacity to offer very many non-stop destination, especially since doing so would invite an all-out war with Delta.

Passengers should also expect to pay fees. While the fares are cheap, Spirit in particular has a reputation for nickel-and-diming passengers. Check out this column a week or so ago from the Motley Fool:

I think no one was able to capture this better than CBS news and NPR personality Mo Rocca. Here’s what he had to tweet about his Spirit experience: “I’m really not an airline snob but boarding Spirit Air flight to Detroit & it feels like I’m trying get last helicopter out of Saigon #chaos.” The company’s growth plan is just getting started, so it might take a while for the word to spread about what flying Spirit really means.

In the second outcome, I see passengers embracing Spirit’s low costs, but figuring out ways to avoid the extra fees–by printing boarding passes at home, packing extra-light, and forgoing that $3 glass of water. You might think Spirit wouldn’t mind passengers doing this, but in the most recent quarter, these “non-ticket” sources of revenue accounted for a whopping 38.2% of revenue. Without that revenue, the airline would have most certainly not been profitable.

Spirit also charges for carry-on baggage. JetBlue, meanwhile, has just increased its fee for a second checked bag ($40), although it has a first-bag-free policy.

This is probably why the early cheering in the “guess the airline” game is for JetBlue. But this is Minnesota; We don’t get that lucky in these things.

  • Kevin Watterson

    I’ve heard that Oceanic is looking to open new hubs.

  • Bill Williams

    Wildcard entry: Virgin America, which already flies to Chicago and has been expanding at a fairly quick pace the past few years.

  • John P II

    I googled to try to learn about possible impact to Sun Country and learned nothing but saw that Bizjournals is citing Newscut’s analysis.

  • Bob Collins

    // Wildcard entry: Virgin America, which already flies to Chicago and has been expanding at a fairly quick pace the past few years.

    It’s funny, I was going to include Virgin as a darkhorse candidate but thought the piece was already too long by then. But, yeah, that was one that looked like a possibility.

    I didn’t, though, mostly because there are so many gaps in its coastal routes that I figured they’d figure out how to plug some of those first.

    For example, I’d expect they’d add Phoenix before they’d add MSP, but maybe not

  • Zach

    Crossing my fingers for Virgin!

  • I’d love to be optimistic and guess it’s JetBlue — or even Spirit, for that matter — but I think we’re getting this counted as a new “airline” (they charter Sun Country’s aircraft): metjet.net.

    It should be great for all those people who fly to Green Bay for a nice vacation in the winter.

  • Arch Stanton

    MetJet was my first thought as well. When family in Green Bay told me that MetJet was going to be offering non-stop service from GB to Orlando but contracting with Sun Country for the planes, my first thought was, “How are they going to get those planes from Mpls to GB?”

  • Capt Dano

    Very interesting analysis. One more thought on Virgin. Since their inception, they have not turned a profit. Would the airport authority want to bring in someone that is not profitable and stand to loose a lot more when the oil prices continue to skyrocket this year?

  • Michael

    The MetJet site already has MSP listed as a point of departure and destination

    http://www.metjet.net/

  • Jim Shapiro

    Captain Dano – Richard Branson is a different breed of cat. He values innovation and quality and future opportunities over whether or not the ink is black or red at the end of the fiscal year.

    That said, whether or not the commissioners of the airport authority are of like mind with Sir Richard is another question. 🙂

  • Mike

    The PR said an international airline, perhaps Air Canada?

  • Bob Collins

    Air Canada already lists Minneapolis as a destination (although perhaps it’s code share).

    Hmmm… international. Does that suggest Virgin?

  • Jim Shapiro

    Virgin Australia has a fare to MSP from Sidney and Melbourne via LAX, then on Delta to our fair cities. and a recent piece in a travel section in a paper down under. Hmmm.

    A Virgin is a Virgin is a Virgin, right?

  • David Kelliher

    If it’s JetBlue, I hope they send that cool Red Sox plane here, eh Bob?

  • Neil

    I hope it’s Virgin America, simply because I’ve been personally bugging them to fly out of MSP since their airline began many years ago.

    Side note: at MSP on Friday, I saw a Virgin America pilot arrive on a Delta flight (can’t miss them, the uniforms are all black). It’s certainly not a stretch that a qualified A319/320 pilot from any airlne would live in former NWA territory, but that sighting plus this story makes me wonder… and hope…. more hope than wonder…

  • Doug

    Reports are that the new airline serves primarily domestic destinations, but also has some international service–so Air Canada is out. Spirit, with its shoehorn-required seats and extra $ every time you sneeze, would be a disappointment. I’m rooting for Virgin America, with it’s west-oriented route map and possible connections to Australia and the Far East.

  • Zack Rules

    I am betting JetBlue with thrice daily service to Boston. They have been targeting business travelers out of Beantown of late, Dallas/Fort Worth being the latest addition. Spirit I think is all expanded out for this year (ie no more planes) but I could be mistaken.

  • I agree it is probably Spirit Airlines which is adding a lot of new cities in the West and the Midwest including new service to Denver which will put low-fare pressure on struggling Frontier Airlines. I would also suspect Spirit is preparing for a bid for Frontier (both are Airbus operators but with different cultures) should Republic Airways Holdings decide to sell the subsidiary.

    My guess: Spirit Airlines.

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