Sun Country will be permitted to collect its government funding while largely suspending service through 21 June 2020. United Airlines and Frontier Airlines will not be so lucky. The latest guidance from the US Department of Transportation released this morning shows that the Agency is using different standards for the different sized airlines in forming its policy.
Sun Country’s win can be attributed to its business model and how it differs from other U/LCC carriers. While many others focus on serving smaller airports that legacy carriers avoid, Sun Country flies from its Minneapolis hub mostly to major cities. That means more competition when things are normal but also a win today as the larger hub destinations see sufficient service from other carriers such that Sun Country is now exempt from service. As the DOT explains:
Sun Country’s request for exemption for Points 3 to 8, 10 to 13, 16, and 18-21 (large hubs) provides a well-justified and narrowly tailored basis for a small carrier. The Department finds that this limited exemption would be consistent with the objective of Order 2020-4-2, which is to require airlines receiving financial assistance under the CARES Act to continue serving the points on their network to the extent reasonable and practicable. In this case, our action exempting Sun Country from serving the 15 hubs shown above, which have abundant service, would relieve Sun Country from an undue economic and operational burden.
As a result, the carrier can suspend service to 15 destinations and delay starting of seasonal flights to another 6. All 21 of these routes will operate again beginning the week of 21 June 2020. Three more will see a reduction in the required flights from 3x weekly to just 1x. Only at Ft Myers, Florida was Sun Country denied its request.
Frontier Airlines denied
The Frontier route map includes many small markets and the DOT is not letting any service lapse at those airports. Only 3 of the 33 requested exceptions were granted to Frontier and those only through 10 June 2020. The common characteristic across those three is that they are larger “hub” airports: Charlotte, Boston, and Detroit.
There’s also a chance the Frontier route map adjusts as the carrier complies with the new obligations. Much like how Alaska Airlines, Spirit Airlines and JetBlue have started serving multiple destinations on a single plane, tag flights, circle trips or milk run routings can be useful in these circumstances.
United Airlines comes up short
For United Airlines the net result is a mixed bag. The carrier received exemptions for non-Honolulu flying to Hawaii and will be able to hold off on starting some seasonal services. But other requests to consolidate flights at adjacent airports (e.g. Appleton and Green Bay, WI) were denied. Unless an airport pair was previously designated as part of a common metro area the DOT appears to be holding strong on this front.
Answers in the fine print
Reading the footnotes of the Frontier ruling delivers some useful explanation of how the DOT has arrived at its reasoning. A <10% carrier can be exempted from service to a “large hub” airport defined by US Law as having 1% or more of passenger boardings or airports “where the Department observes carriers connecting a high percentage of traffic.” For purposes of CARES Act enforcement the airports covered are: Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Denver, Detroit, Honolulu, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Nashville, New York City, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Portland, Salt Lake City, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis, Tampa, and Washington, DC.
Yes, the airlines are expected to bear some economic burden as part of receiving the CARES Act grants, but if the flights operate to a large hub that can be waived. But the airlines cannot count the originating airport as the hub for exemption.
In finally spelling out these requirements the DOT also appears to be admitting a mistake in prior rulings. Or at least identifying inconsistencies. JetBlue, for example, requested exemptions at Portland, Houston, Dallas/Ft Worth, and Minneapolis/St Paul. All four of those are included in the DOT’s listing of large airports. All four were denied in the DOT’s ruling for the carrier. Similarly, Spirit Airlines requested exemptions at Charlotte, Minneapolis, New York City, Portland and San Francisco. Those requests were also all denied.
Presumably these two carriers can appeal the ruling based on the revised published guidance.
More on COVID-19 and the airlines affected
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- US to block some European visitors
- Two key takeaways from American’s latest schedule cuts
- Regulators suspend slot rules, opening door to deeper airline cuts
- Beyond route cuts, airlines initiate extended suspension of operations
- Gogo looks to ride out coronavirus-related dip in demand
- Trans States Airlines: The first US airline victim of COVID-19
- JetBlue removes 40% of capacity, delays new deliveries as demand drops
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- Emirates, Turkish Airlines slash route networks, ground aircraft
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- Converting to cargo: Putting passenger planes to use in the COVID-19 era
- IATA anticipates recession, slower recovery, as COVID-19 impact drag on
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- JetBlue plans 70%+ cut in April operations
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- Spirit Airlines reportedly cutting 90% of flights
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- An eerie quiet over New York City: The flights are gone
- Who wants what? How the US airlines are responding with CARES Act funding on the line
- Delta, United extend elite status by a year, adjust other benefits
- DOT adjusts, finalizes airline route requirements for CARES Act funding.
- Lufthansa announces major, permanent fleet restructuring
- Air Canada, Alaska Airlines extend elite status
- Deeper cuts, reprotect options coming for JetBlue
- Air Canada replaces seats with cargo in 777-300ER cabin
- American Airlines extends status, eases qualification
- A new take on amenity kits in the COVID-19 era
- COVID crushing inflight connectivity: Part 1
- Stuck in the past, DOT botches its CARES Act implementation
- DOT grants exemptions to Delta, Alaska Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines under CARES Act obligations
- Introducing yin-yang seating for economy class
- Inflight social distancing will kill short-haul LCC travel: IATA
- Gogo furloughs 60% of workforce, applies for CARES Act support
- COVID crushing inflight connectivity: Part 2
- De Havilland, Air Canada Cargo partner on Dash 8-400 cargo conversion
- JetBlue plans new route network for CARES Act compliance
- Spirit Airlines running triangle routes to meet CARES Act requirements
- Sun Country wins big as United, Frontier lose in latest CARES Act ruling
- Frontier Airlines pushes new route plan for CARES Act compliance
- Argentina plans to restart flights in September 2020
- Spirit Airlines asks DOT again to drop destinations
- Delta Flight Products, TechOps develop isolation pod for COVID-19 military transport
- JetBlue aims to drop 16 "major hub" destinations from its network
- Allegiant scores leniency from DOT in CARES Act obligations
- Panasonic Avionics implements furloughs to address slowing business
- American, Delta confirm accelerated fleet retirements
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- The Weekly Wrap: FlightPlan, personal screening and more!
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- JetBlue, Spirit score exemptions to drop service at major US airports
- IATA recommends against blocked middle seats, favors "layered" protections
- United plans to resume (cargo for now) Hong Kong-Singapore service
- JetBlue suspends six cities through June
- Project Wingman USA Opens Lounges for Frontline Healthcare Heroes at Two Major New York City Hospitals
- Cape Air’s ugly April stats (and some possible good news for May)
- Fighting for the middle: A pandemic seating shift
- Avianca declares bankruptcy, seeks protection in restructuring
- United raises ire in cutting hours for salaried employees
- DOT further relaxes airline CARES Act obligations
- Allegiant sees quick recovery on the horizon
- Delta drops 777 fleet as coronavirus cuts continue
- JetBlue offers free TrueBlue Mosaic status, plus a year extension
- United faces lawsuit over M&A employees pay cut
- Optimism on the horizon: The Weekly Wrap 15 May 2020
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- JetBlue plans return of international markets in June
- Frontier, Mobile bicker over flights to Orlando
- US retaliates against China, blocking all flights
- China blinks, US to back down on flight ban
- ATPCO moves to ease ticketing changes for airlines worldwide
- Inflight magazines are not dead yet: The Weekly Wrap–5 June 2020
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- GermFalcon to take flight as Honeywell UV Cabin System
- Allegiant driving passenger traffic recovery
- Air travel is bouncing back: Can the trend hold??
- Masks Matter: US carriers plan more enforcement for on-board behavior
- JetBlue plans to outsource airport operations at (more) smaller destinations
- Norwegian set to restart European services from 1 July
- Jilted travelers get aggressive in seeking airline refund enforcement from the DOT
- LATAM Argentina, LEVEL Europe face bankruptcy
- Air Canada launches half-priced Aeroplan rewards in North America
- AirShield proposes curtains of air to separate passengers in flight
- Curing Catering Concerns: The Weekly Wrap–19 June 2020
- A big hint that British Airways will retire its 747s soon
- JetBlue’s crazy summer of new routes
- Air Canada fights back on refund demands, disputes DOT authority
- JetBlue pilots secure no furlough deal through April 2021
- Peek inside the largest converted cargo aircraft flying today
- ZIM Flugsitz seeks insolvency protection
- JetBlue launches trial for Honeywell’s UV Cabin System (f/k/a GermFalcon)
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