If the takeover of Spirit Airlines by Frontier is to go ahead, the fifth-largest airline in the United States will be an ultra-low-cost carrier in the future. The no-frills approach to air travel has taken other continents by storm but has been slow to gain a foothold in the U.S. despite, or precisely because the country is so dependent on air travel. It still remains to be seen if the Biden administration’s vow to tighten antitrust enforcement will extend beyond big tech to airlines or if the deal will go ahead undisturbed, Yahoo Money reports.
As seen in data by association Airlines for America, 15% of U.S. domestic passengers were already traveling on ultra-low-cost carriers Spirit Airlines, Frontier Airlines, Sun Country Airlines and Allegiant Air in 2021. The market share of ULCCs has increased somewhat over the past years while still being a far cry from the European market, where the mothers of all ultra-low-cost carriers, Ryanair and Easyjet, transport the biggest shares of passengers ahead of Germany’s Lufthansa.
This chart shows the share of domestic U.S. air passengers traveling on the following airlines (in … [+] percent).
According to industry publication Flight Global, the ultra-low-cost model has proven successful amid the pandemic crunch, allowing the airlines in question to grow. But the U.S. air travel market is also cutthroat, and the merger is seen as a crucial step among industry analysts to keep both airlines competitive as they could share in-demand pilots and their networks complement each other.
While the market share of ULCCs remains rather low, most Americans will be familiar with one lower-cost airline taking up a big market share in the country – Southwest Airlines. As with Jet Blue or regional carriers Alaskan Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines, Southwest’s lower-cost approach is not that much different from traveling domestically on a full-service carrier like Delta Air Lines, American Airlines or United Airlines.
This is due to the fact that domestic full-service routes in the U.S. already have pared-down offerings – think no checked bags or meal service – compared with traveling internationally. No assigned seats is one of the lower-cost markers that Southwest maintains, while its baggage policy goes beyond that of most domestic full-service flights and its use of secondary airports has also declined. This is in stark contrast with packages sold by Frontier and Spirit, which charge extra for everything from carry-on bags to refreshments and even reclining seats and in-person check-in.
Is America ready for ultra-low-cost flying?
Lastly, why has the ultra-low-cost model not caught on as quickly in North America? According to Condé Nast Traveler, the busy U.S. air travel market had made full-service airlines more competitive earlier on, introducing the above-mentioned distinctions between domestic and international service to keep prices low at least in relation to the long distances within the United States. European budget airlines encountered less prepared full-service carriers that were severely overpriced and therefore restrictive to air travel within the continent. This led many Europeans to travel by car, bus or train within Europe in the past. When budget airlines popped up, cheap air travel within Europe was embraced by a new clientele which savored the fresh possibility of low-cost vacations or weekend getaways while being unperturbed by the obvious shortcoming in the comfort and convenience departments.
Americans, on the other hand, have been used to frequent air travel and were therefore slower to warm to a different mode of flying. Yet, as the market reshuffles under pandemic conditions, ultra-low-cost will continue its steady run on the U.S. market or even accelerate its attack with a new Spirit/Frontier national budget network.

Charted by Statista

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