COLUMBIA — After announcing earlier this month that it would add a third weekly direct flight from Columbia to Orlando, Fla., Frontier Airlines declared Monday morning that it will discontinue the flights altogether.
The twice-weekly flights on Tuesdays and Saturdays began at Columbia Regional Airport on Nov. 20. Frontier has been flying a 138-seat Airbus A319 aircraft. On Feb. 10, it announced it would fly to Orlando on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, beginning in April.
Monday's announcement reversed that decision.
Although the Orlando flights were proving popular, attracting passengers from around the Midwest to fly out of Columbia, Mayor Bob McDavid said the announcement was no surprise.
Frontier program manager Kate O'Malley said in an email to the Missourian that the planes weren't as full as the airline had hoped they would be. Still, the route was discontinued for overall performance, not simply load factor.
McDavid said the Columbia-Orlando flights were part of a package deal with other midsize cities such as Madison, Wis. The other cities' flights weren’t doing as well as Columbia's and that is why Frontier eliminated the flights, he said.
O’Malley, however, said routes were evaluated individually and not as a package with other cities. “Booking did not meet expectations," she said of Columbia.
McDavid said it was obvious that Frontier was losing money on the flights because its fares were so low.
“One flight to Orlando cost Frontier from $15,000 to $18,000," he said, adding that Frontier's resort-airlines model “has never been part of our air service strategy” and that “no city guarantee money is at stake.”
Columbia Regional Airport Manager Don Elliott said Frontier is trying to cater more to business travelers and less to those flying for leisure.
“These are difficult decisions but are necessary for us to remain a viable airline,” Frontier said on Facebook in a response to an affected customer.
Elliott first learned of Frontier's decision by reading blogs and talking to mid-level staff members of Frontier.
Customers who have purchased tickets for Orlando flights after May 14 should contact Frontier's reservation department for refunds, O’Malley said.
O'Malley said Frontier has no future plans for flights from Columbia. Elliott, though, said the possibility of Frontier flights to Denver has always been considered because Denver is the airline's primary hub.
McDavid said the city's focus for now is on the recently added American Airlines’ flights to Chicago and Dallas-Fort Worth. He would like to see three flights to both destinations every day.
Frontier is experiencing a deep reorganization in which about 700 employees nationwide will lose jobs that will be outsourced to third party-vendors, according to an article in the Denver Post.
The airline also is planning to end service in Colorado Springs; Philadelphia; Dayton, Ohio; Akron, Ohio; and Louisville, Ky. It will add service in Cleveland; Cincinnati; Minot, N.D.; and Knoxville, Tenn.
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