D/FW Savors Victory From Spirit Airlines

After months of trying to bring new airline service to Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, officials savored a small victory Thursday when low-fare carrier Spirit Airlines said it will launch nonstop service to Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Spirit, a privately held airline based in Miramar, Fla., that operates a hub in Fort Lauderdale, will begin service in January. In addition to the nonstop flight to Florida, passengers can connect to 26 cities, including many in the Caribbean, such as Nassau, Bahamas, and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

But the airline won't be leasing any gates at the airport. Instead, Spirit will pay the airport a fee for each of two daily flights and will use either Gate 21 or 31 in the airport's Terminal E, depending on which is available.

That means the new service will do little to relieve D/FW's glut of empty gates. Airport officials have been working, without success, to fill 25 gates vacated by Delta Air Lines.

Joe Lopano, D/FW's executive vice president of marketing and revenue management, hopes that Spirit might eventually take over a gate. "If they perform well, then it will make more sense for them to lease a gate," he said.

For its new service, Spirit will get a much smaller financial incentive, worth about $250,000, airport officials said.

Baldanza said the D/FW service is an opportunity to feed passengers to Spirit's hub. The airline is working hard to position itself as the leading low-fare carrier in the Caribbean, said airline consultant Stuart Klaskin, of Klaskin, Kushner & Co. in Coral Gables, Fla.

"D/FW doesn't really have any discount service into that market," said Klaskin, who has worked for the airline in the past.

American Airlines offers most North Texas service to the Caribbean, and passengers must connect through that airline's hub in Miami. The Spirit entry is likely to lower fares to many of those cities.

In an apparent swipe at Southwest, Spirit executives Thursday headlined one news release "Spirit Is the 'Wright' Way to Fly to Fort Lauderdale and the Caribbean."

The mayors of Fort Worth and Dallas personally pitched the airport to Spirit executives. According to the airport, Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief tempted Spirit executives with chips and salsa from Joe T. Garcia's Mexican restaurant, while Dallas Mayor Laura Miller sent the same from La Calle Doce in Oak Cliff.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press