Spirit Airlines gains 16 takeoff spots at Newark; USDOT says it will improve costs, on-time performance

In a move that is intended to help pricing at Newark Liberty International Airport, the U.S. Department of Transportation this week assigned 16 peak-hour runway timings to Spirit Airlines.

The spots previously were held by Southwest Airlines, which stopped flying out of Newark in 2019.

The DOT said the action “secures low-cost service options for Newark customers and improves competition in the Newark market.”

“(The) decision provides certainty to carriers that have been operating at Newark using temporary, ad hoc timings made available while other carriers reduced service during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the DOT said in a release.

It is unclear how Spirit will use the 16 slots — or where new destinations potentially could be.

Spirit was selected for the spots over JetBlue Airways (which put in a bid for all 16 timings) and Alaska Airlines (which wanted four).

The DOT said the selection will improve the gridlock that has impacted the airport — although it’s unclear how this will do so. The award comes with conditions, the DOT said.

“Given the department’s concern over the recent airline cancellations, delays, challenges with customer service and other operational disruptions that have hurt travelers, the department is requiring Spirit, as a condition of accepting the timings, to report additional data on disruptions facing their airline customers and its ability to provide them with accommodations,” it said.

“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.

As Newark is an IATA Level 2 “schedule facilitated” airport, the DOT expects all operators there to continue to work cooperatively with the Federal Aviation Administration to ensure scheduled operations do not exceed the airport’s targeted scheduling limits.

That hasn’t been the case. Officials at United Airlines, the largest carrier at the airport by far, repeatedly have said overscheduling has been a big reason for the delays.

The 16 timings originally were operated by Southwest in 2010, when it acquired them as part of a Department of Justice competition remedy to the United-Continental merger.

The DOT said it feels Spirit will best be able to provide competition with all 16 timings, consistent with the Department of Justice’s original competition remedy, and is most likely to provide the lowest fares to the most consumers.