UPDATE: On Thursday morning, Southwest Airlines loaded five resumptions of international destinations from Fort Lauderdale beginning roughly around the same time as Spirit’s foray into Miami this Fall. The assumption in this article and among that of many aviation analysts was that Southwest which has built up Miami recently at Fort Lauderdale’s expense may get international service at Lauderdale’s expense. At least thus far, that is not the case.
If you missed the news, Spirit Airlines whose primary hub is in Fort Lauderdale is beginning Miami service this fall – not with a handful of nonstop destinations but 30, yes THIRTY. Spirit is based in Broward County and flew the fifth most passengers among US airlines in 2020.
Spirit is one of three airlines that prior to COVID-19 had a large connecting hub/focus city operation in Fort Lauderdale and did not serve rival Miami International. Now, Spirit is one of three airlines that had a large connecting hub and had a large connecting hub/focus city operation in Fort Lauderdale that has opened service to Miami International with double-digit daily nonstop flights.
In addition, Emirates Airline, one of the world’s largest international carriers has shifted its South Florida gateway from Fort Lauderdale to Miami.
It should be noted Spirit claims they are pulling no service from Fort Lauderdale (unlike Southwest who made no such promise and have aggressively ramped up Miami since November 2020), but do we really believe them? This fall Spirit will fly about 100 daily flights from Fort Lauderdale and 30 from Miami…but still that’s 30 more than they fly now.
Spirit’s decision clarifies something I had long feared as someone who has historically preferred flying out of Fort Lauderdale (FLL) instead of Miami (MIA) – the large concentration of domestic service out of FLL instead of MIA the last 15-20 years was due largely to operating costs being substantially lower at FLL. Now that the cost of operating at Fort Lauderdale has risen with recent terminal renovations, Miami is more attractive – why?
Miami’s costs per passenger are still higher than Fort Lauderdale’s but airline’s can charge a higher fare premium out of MIA than FLL- business travelers don’t like Fort Lauderdale with its inferior lounge facilities and lack of public transportation (ie. train) options directly from the airport. Besides it is further from the major business districts in the region, though it should be pointed out both Office Depot and AutoNation have their corporate HQ’s much closer to FLL than MIA.
Tourists preferred FLL because of cost, but many if not most aren’t visiting Broward or Palm Beach County at all but are headed to Miami or the Keys – so now Spirit, Southwest and jetBlue can all take them closer to their destinations.
All of this adds up to bad news for Broward County. Without cruise ships running, and little business travel to the airport their really is little point to flying in/out of Fort Lauderdale except strictly for convenience – and since the MIA and FLL catchments areas overlap the number of potential passengers that would be unwilling to drive to MIA is probably small – much like Palm Beach International’s (PBI) long-term struggle to stop local passengers from flying out of Fort Lauderdale which has lower fares and much more service.
The key for FLL is getting the cruise business back up and running – until then I’d expect to see more or more service pulled from Fort Lauderdale and moved to Miami. In fact if cruise ships aren’t back to 2019 levels by 2023, Fort Lauderdale and more broadly Broward County are in BIG trouble economically.