The addition of Frontier Airlines to Long Island MacArthur Airport has been hailed as a sign of good things for the region, but recent route cancellations and changes have some customers and travel agents leery of flying out of Long Island on the low-cost carrier.
“As a travel agent I can’t put people on an airline that may or may not be flying to their destination in six months if they decide it isn’t a profitable route,” said Helen Prochilo, a Long Beach-based travel agent. “People book flights up to a year in advance.”
The Denver-based airline announced multiple changes this month, suspending flights to New Orleans, Miami and Fort Myers, Florida, while adding direct routes to San Juan and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
Airline officials say the changes are in response to traveler demand (or insufficient demand), and now characterize the cancellation of flights to Fort Myers and Miami as seasonal suspensions that may return later this year, though they offer no guarantees.
“We’re now six months into flying from Islip, and as with every new city we come into, we learn the market as we go,” said Daniel Shurz, Frontier’s vice president for commercial operations. “We’ve put a lot of capacity into the market quickly. It’s taking a little bit longer than we anticipated to profitably fill all that capacity. And we’re an airline ultimately driven by our ability to make a profit. But this is our standard approach across the network.”
Many customers say the changes have been frustrating, such as Levittown resident Rosemary Costabile, who said she was “beyond disappointed” by the suspension of the Florida routes. She had used Frontier three times and was hoping to be a regular on those flights in the future.
“I hope Frontier prospers, and they continue their Florida flights,” she said. “My only recourse will be to fly to Tampa, which also has limited dates available, and drive almost three hours to get to Naples.”
Shurz said that Frontier has invested heavily in its services out of the Islip Town-owned MacArthur Airport, and is committed to serving the local market. Officials say the way they can do that most effectively is to quickly respond to what they’re learning from the market.
Frontier — like all airlines — has a clear view at any given time of how its flights are performing and must respond to that data to remain profitable, said Robert Mann, a former airline executive and president of R.W. Mann & Co., an aviation consulting group based in Port Washington.
“Frontier has a record of being faster to act one way or the other, either by initiating service or by terminating that service than most airlines,” Mann said. “It has a lower threshold for action. There’s no point in perpetuating a loss; if it’s going to be a loss, you get out as soon as you can.”
That bottom-line reality doesn’t change the disappointment that Smithtown resident Linda Syskowski said she experienced after signing up for a Frontier credit card only to have her favorite route canceled. She said she got the card after riding on the airline’s maiden flight from Islip to Fort Myers in October 2017 because she planned to use it regularly to visit family.
Now, she says she will use her free miles and cancel her card.
“It appears this was all a bait-and-switch situation,” Syskowski said.
Shurz said the airline gives passengers several months notice before making any major changes, but that these kinds of shifts sometimes happen.
Airport officials said that Frontier brought 75,000 new passengers through the airport between October and December 2017.
“They’ve answered what the community has been begging for,” airport Commissioner Shelley LaRose-Arken said. “If we want to see more than seasonal service, then our obligation as a community and as businesses here on Long Island is to fill those airplanes.”
LaRose-Arken credits Frontier with putting the airport on track to have the highest growth of all U.S. airports for domestic passengers, according to data from Innovata, an Atlanta-based company that does aviation data analysis.
The airport’s capacity grew just over 50 percent from 63,379 seats flying out of MacArthur in April 2017, to 98,515 seats scheduled through April 2018.