By Ian McMurtry
DOT Holds Ex-Southwest Gates for Low-Cost Carrier Use Only
After the departure of Southwest from Newark Liberty International Airport, the Department of Transportation noted that those vacant slots would not go to any airline moving forward. The government agency announced that the airport will freeze the eight vacant landing slots into New Jersey’s largest airport and will only be unfrozen once a low-cost carrier or ultra-low-cost carrier sees the need to use them for further expansion.
The airport is currently a hub for United Airlines, but has seen expansion and competition in recent years from JetBlue, Spirit, Sun Country and Allegiant. The airport hopes that in doing this, it will promote low airfare and keep existing legacy carriers from absorbing the gates previously used by Southwest.
Southwest vacated service to six cities when it pulled flights back in 2019, citing that the entire market was not profitable for the airline. Those routes included service to Chicago, Nashville, Austin, Denver, Phoenix and St. Louis. All six routes are covered by other airlines, with St. Louis being the only route to sit under United’s sole control. At least one low-cost carrier — ranging from Frontier to Spirit to JetBlue — competes on the other routes.
Southwest also still serves some of the retired Newark routes in the New York City market through New York’s La Guardia Airport. The airline flies to Chicago, Nashville, Denver and St. Louis from the airport, while Austin and Phoenix services were lost completely when the low cost carrier departed the New Jersey airport.
JetBlue offers the most routes of the low-cost carriers out of Newark, with 36-year-round destinations ranging from Orlando and Charleston to Aguadilla, Puerto Rico and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. While JetBlue will not be growing in the near future, Spirit and Frontier continue their Newark expansion with Spirit starting Miami flights in October and Frontier inaugurating service to Montego Bay, Jamaica; Nassau, Bahamas and Providenciales, Turks and Caicos in December.
“JetBlue has long advocated for more opportunities which will allow smaller carriers to grow and compete against legacy carriers — particularly at congested airports across greater New York City. One of the most common requests from our customers is more JetBlue service at the New York metro area’s three major airports,” noted JetBlue spokesman Philip Stewart.
This move comes after the airlines originally had to fight to keep the slots active. The Federal Aviation Administration had initially planned to remove the Southwest slots from the table when the airline departed, noting a potential reduction in Newark’s congestion as a result of the disbanded services. Spirit Airlines sued the FAA, citing a potential obstruction to their growth plans at the airport with the slot retirements. Spirit would go on to win the case.