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Frontier Airlines puts down stakes at Pittsburgh International Airport

| Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016, 12:06 p.m.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Frontier Airlines CIO Rick Zeni speaks to the media following a press conference announcing the airlines' new service to Pittsburgh on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Frontier Airlines CIO Rick Zeni speaks during a press conference announcing the airlines' new service to Pittsburgh on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016.

The newest airline at Pittsburgh International Airport plans to offer low-cost fares to popular markets, potentially luring in new passengers, which bodes well for the facility's growth plans.

Frontier Airlines will offer nonstop service to Chicago, Las Vegas, Atlanta, Denver and Orlando beginning in June, the carrier announced Tuesday.

“We have been on a very aggressive, targeted and focused approach to bring in more service,” said Allegheny County Airport Authority CEO Christina Cassotis, who started at the airport one year ago this Friday. “They're part of a niche focus that allows us to say ‘We're taking care and paying attention to all segments of our passenger traffic.' ”

Frontier will offer base fares for flights starting at $19 each way under its launch promotions, plus add-on costs for carry-on bags, checked luggage, priority seating or refund policies. Travelers can choose to bundle all service together for fares starting at $112 each way under the promotion.

All five destinations Frontier will serve are reached through other carriers. But Rick Zeni, chief information officer at Frontier, said the company's ultra-low-cost carrier model is likely to fill unmet needs.

“We think the market is big enough for the existing competition, and the low fares we're offering,” Zeni said.

Frontier, headquartered in Denver, announced the Pittsburgh expansion as one of four new cities along with a plan to purchase 18 new planes. Last week, the carrier announced 42 new routes.

A carrier joining an airport causes “a ripple effect,” said Michael Cintron, consumer and travel industry affairs director for International Airline Passengers Association. In the short-term, Cintron said, carriers who offer flights to the same destinations as Frontier may lower them, while promoting their roomier seats and rewards programs.

“The more carriers at an airport, the better it is for that region,” Cintron said.

Passengers must travel the new routes to keep them around, said Ken Zapinski, senior vice president for energy and infrastructure at the Allegheny Conference on Community Development. But Frontier's arrival signals that the airline industry is recognizing Pittsburgh is underserved, he said.

Costs per enplanement, the average cost for an airline per passenger to operate out of an airport, are at $12.88, down from $12.90 last year.

“These airlines are expanding not because we want them to be here, not out of the goodness of their heart,” Zapinski said. “They're investing here because they think they can make money here.”

The airport announced its 53rd destination with new nonstop service to Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport, Georgia, on Allegiant Air, another ultra-low-cost carrier.

Long-term plans for service expansions include more West Coast and European destinations. On Monday, the airport announced an expansion of daily flights to Paris on Delta, which will be offered daily from May through October.

The Frontier flights will operate daily to Denver and Las Vegas, four times a week to Atlanta and Orlando, and three times a week to Chicago's O'Hare International Airport.

Craig Davis, CEO of tourism agency VisitPittsburgh, said the combination of low-cost carriers and third-party reviews — like Zagat's top food city of 2015 rating — entice travelers to explore Pittsburgh.

“When that happens, it creates buzz,” Davis said. “If you can get here efficiently and easily and cheaply, it creates its own demand.”

Melissa Daniels is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8511 or mdaniels@tribweb.com.

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