DOT awards Newark slots to Spirit Airlines

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The DOT said that Spirit "is most likely to provide the lowest fares to the most consumers."
The DOT said that Spirit "is most likely to provide the lowest fares to the most consumers." Photo Credit: Spirit Airlines

The DOT has awarded Spirit Airlines the right to operate 16 additional daily departures and landings at capacity-constrained Newark Airport. 

The peak-time landing rights are among the 36 daily slots that Southwest abandoned when it stopped serving Newark in 2019. The 20 other landing rights have already been reassigned. 

The Transportation Department in February asked low-cost carriers (LCCs) and ultralow-cost carriers (ULCCs) to submit applications for the remaining slots, pursuant to a court order calling for increased competition at Newark, where United Airlines dominates. 

Spirit won the slots over JetBlue. Alaska Airlines also applied, but only for four daily slots. 

In announcing its decision on Tuesday, the DOT said that Spirit "is most likely to provide the lowest fares to the most consumers."

The department awarded the slots even as Newark flyers are experiencing substantial disruptions this summer due to construction as well as airline, airport and air traffic control staffing shortages. Last month, United announced it would pare its schedule at Newark by 12% due to airport congestion. 

In April, United CEO Scott Kirby had accused Spirit and JetBlue of operating more flights during some periods of the day at Newark than they are supposed to under FAA rules. JetBlue and Spirit subsequently trimmed their schedules. 

The DOT incorporated concerns about Newark operations into its decision by requiring Spirit to report increased data on disruptions that impact its customers, including its ability to facilitate alternative accommodations. 

"These reporting requirements will enable the department to monitor Spirit's ability to deliver on its customer commitment and permit the department to better quantify the financial impact of operational disruptions on travelers," the DOT said. 

For the 12 months that ended in March 2022, Spirit was the third-largest carrier in Newark, emplaning 7.45% of passengers, according to the most recently available Bureau of Transportation Statistics data. JetBlue was the airport's second-largest carrier, serving 11.4% of passengers. United and United Express historically emplane more than two-thirds of Newark flyers. 

The DOT's selection of Spirit comes as JetBlue and Frontier are engaged in a contentious bidding war to purchase Spirit.

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