Flight Plan

Posted on September 30, 2014


By Lees Romano

Frontier Airlines and Southwest Airlines are adding flights to the Memphis International Airport, providing more service for local fliers and fostering the facility’s transition away from high-priced hub airports. The additional service is great news for local flyers and the Memphis airport itself, which has been seeking new service as it transitions away from its previous domination by Delta Airlines to becoming a hub airport that is focused on origin and destination traffic.

The added services from both Frontier and Southwest will boost the profitability and availability of the Memphis Airport, which recently has been affected by massive cutbacks from Delta Air Lines. In the past few decades, Memphis has experienced a severe erosion of passenger service, which has fallen from about 300 daily flights in 2000 to about 100 in 2013. Just after Labor Day in 2013, Delta eliminated 29 more of its flights from the Memphis airport, downgrading its Memphis operations to below “hub” status. Delta now offers just 64 flights on peak days, and more cuts are expected for the future.

“It’s terrific to be back,” Frontier executive Greg Aretakis said, referring to the Denver-based airline’s brief Memphis service six years ago, which was abandoned in less than a year because of the airline’s bankruptcy.

Frontier will return to the same ticket counter it occupied in Terminal C, expecting passengers to fill nine out of every 10 seats. In September of 2013, Frontier announced its flights were 91 percent full, making it the most fully occupied airline in the industry at the time. Aretakis believes Memphians will run occupancies in the 90 percent range as well.

Southwest Airlines, which began service in Memphis last November, has increased its flights in Memphis since then. AirTran flights out of Memphis were converted to the Southwest brand as connecting flights to main-line Southwest routes.

As Delta Air Lines reduced its involvement in the airport, other airlines, such as Frontier, Southwest, American Airlines-US Airways and United have either started new services or increased their offerings at the Memphis Airport. Including the new Frontier and Southwest flights, the airport has added 20 new flights outside of the Delta Air Lines system since November.

Airport Authority officials have been on a mission over the last few years to bring more service to the Memphis airport as it makes the shift to an airport focused on generating origin and destination traffic. Today, about 98 percent of the airport’s enplanements originate in Memphis, a massive shift from prior years, when connecting flights dominate nearly 70 percent of airport traffic.

In addition to actively recruiting other airlines, Memphis International is looking to spend $114 million to renovate the airport and make it more relevant to individuals currently using it. Now that the airport is no longer a hub, planners say operations and the design of the facility must reflect that change.

By 2020, the Airport Authority dreams to have one main terminal, moving walkways, less empty space, and more natural light. For years, Delta dominated most of the main terminal; now all airlines will move to Terminal B and parts of Terminals A and C will be torn down.

“We have begun the process of reinventing the Memphis Airport,” said Scott Brockman, Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority President and CEO. “Part of that renovation involves consolidating operations so we can better serve our passengers, airlines, concessionaires, and employees. More importantly, we are going to modernize the B Concourse, giving our passengers more room to move, better lighting, and more convenience.”

With these adjustments, the Memphis Airport not only will improve itself, but it will improve the city of Memphis for both those living there and visitors alike.

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