New airline, now destination, new opportunities for further growth. This was the message delivered at Portsmouth International Airport in Southern New Hampshire this week as Frontier Airlines launched flights to Orlando International Airport.
It is just one route flying a few days a week, but it represents far greater opportunities for the airport and the region. The new service launches as the airport kicks off a significant expansion and renovation of the passenger terminal. Hopes are high that Frontier’s new route will blossom into more than just a single, seasonal service to sunshine.
For the carrier Portsmouth is an experiment. Director of Corporate Communications Jonathan Freed explained the selection process for the new destination and route.
In the past year or so we’ve doubled the size of the airline in terms of cities served and we have 200 new aircraft coming so we’re looking for places for them to go. Our folks run the algorithm and look for markets that we think will respond quickly to our “low fares done right” approach. Portsmouth popped up.
For the airport all those new planes are a significant opportunity. Frontier needs places to put the planes and, as Airport Director Paul Brean explained, there’s an 11,000 foot runway, ample parking space and soon an additional 12,000 square foot terminal and second jet bridge ready to serve those planes. Freed is also looking for opportunities to use the new planes, “We’re starting with Orlando today but if flights are full and we’re seeing interest it gets our attention and puts pressure on us to see where else we can go, what else we can do with all the new planes.”
Adding Frontier to the airport does more than just give passengers another travel option. Portsmouth also sees service from Allegiant, but the Frontier route gets the airline “on the map” according to Brean. Because Allegiant only sells tickets directly the PSM airport code remained absent from online travel booking sites. Frontier uses global distribution systems that now list Portsmouth as an option. Moreover, passengers searching for Boston will see Portsmouth as an alternative in many cases. With Worcester, MA; Providence, RI; and Manchester, NH all claiming a role as alternate airports from Boston only Portsmouth is included by default in such searches for the larger online travel agency sites.
In addition to the nonstop service Frontier offers passengers onward connections via Orlando. Freed also hinted that, depending on loads for the Orlando service and shifts in seasonal demand, a Denver flight could be in the offing. Loads are key to making that happen. For the inaugural flight the load was not great. The flight went out with roughly 60 empty seats, a third of the plane unfilled. Even that load saw an artificial boost. Frontier’s flight from Portland, ME to Orlando the day prior was canceled due to mechanical issues and many of those passengers were rebooked on to the Portsmouth service a day late. It does appear that bookings pick up headed into the holiday season but the market definitely still has work to do to prove itself for the carrier.