While rumors have been floating for sometime that Emirates would make Fort Lauderdale its eleventh US destination, many including myself thought it was just overly optimistic talk. Full-service network carriers that cater to business travelers prefer Miami International Airport (MIA). Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International (FLL) has become a haven for low cost carriers (LCC) and even serves as the home-base for controversial ultra-low cost (ULCC) carrier Spirit Airlines. Fort Lauderdale has become one of 15 busiest US airports for international travel but the vast majority of those flights are on LCC’s like JetBlue Airways, the largest carrier at FLL, controversial European-based carrier, Norwegian and ULCC Spirit. Southwest Airlines which has become a “tweener” between an LCC and a network carrier is also looking to expand international operations from Fort Lauderdale. Full service carriers fly very few international passengers from Fort Lauderdale, by and large preferring Miami.
Every single year since 2007, Fort Lauderdale has handled more domestic passengers than Miami, but still lags well behind in international enplanements and even further behind in terms of cargo.
But Emirates is the gold standard for international travel globally these days and they have selected Fort Lauderdale. This is quite a stunning development if you look at it on the surface, but a deeper dive clarifies why this decision was made.
- Emirates does focus on premium traffic and while Miami is better for that than FLL they have made the decision that the short drive to Fort Lauderdale won’t negatively impact yields. That’s a risk and a decision other full service international carriers have been unwilling to make.
- Unlike most large international network carriers, Emirates is not in an airline alliance. They don’t need to be as they’ve become large enough to create synergies with smaller airlines to feed traffic. Emirates most important North American partner is JetBlue who has a hub in Fort Lauderdale. While Emirates flies to most key cities globally, the biggest hole in the airlines route map is in Latin America. JetBlue has become strong in the northern part of South America and uses Fort Lauderdale as a hub for those flights. So it’s logical Emirates would want to link to that network. Emirates has done something similar in Seattle (SEA) with Alaska Airlines and now had added a second daily Seattle-Dubai run thanks to all the passenger feed from Alaska flights at Seattle-Tacoma International.
- Where Emirates cleans up on non-premium traffic is in the market to South Asia, particularly India and Pakistan. Emirates serves 10 cities in India and six in Pakistan all nonstop from Dubai. The South Asian community is far larger in Broward and Palm Beach counties than in Miami-Dade.
- Fort Lauderdale’s two runways are short but the landing fees and cost of fuel at the airport are lower than Miami. Emirates will have to bring the smallest plane in their fleet the 777-200 LR (which seats only about 275 people) to FLL but the economics work out because the cost of serving Fort Lauderdale is about half that of Miami.
- The upgrades that are being made to FLL are improving the passenger experience at the airport. I know lots of parochial Broward County people think the airport has always been fine, but it hasn’t. It’s been overcrowded and cramped for years – the current upgrades are already changing that and giving the airport a more modern feel.
The question now is whether this leads to more network carriers adding Fort Lauderdale, which has developed as a Newark-like alternative to Miami for international travel. Recall in the 1980’s People’s Express, an LCC made Newark an attractive alternative to New York airports and eventually the NJ airport became a massive international hub in its own right. We’ve seen the same evolution with Fort Lauderdale who has benefited from JetBlue, Southwest and Spirit’s commitment to the airport and has now attracted a few network international carriers.
If Emirates does well with Fort Lauderdale as an alternative to Miami, the industry could begin to shift in south Florida.