Spirit Airlines and Frontier Airlines expanded aggressively over the last decade offering travelers no-frills service in exchange for ultralow airfares.

Their executives vow to keep it that way, even if the carriers complete their $6.6 billion merger, which would turn them into a discount behemoth and the country’s fifth-largest airline. Frontier will have a controlling stake.

“Our business model is built on low fares — that stimulates travel,” Frontier CEO Barry Biffle said in an interview. “We’re going to give people even more low fares.”

Antitrust hurdles

Passengers wait in line at the Spirit Airlines check-in counter at Orlando International Airport.

Paul Hennessy | LightRocket | Getty Images

The airlines denied that and have said the alliance was drawn up so they could better compete with United Airlines and Delta Air Lines in big, congested airports in the New York area and Boston.

The Frontier-Spirit deal would mean a bigger competitor for other carriers, but also one airline fewer for travelers to choose from.

“We believe the merits of the deal — everyone wins,” Biffle said. “We think we should get a warm reception because the administration has been looking for ways to increase competition and we think this is the answer.”

Without those key approvals, nothing is changing for customers just yet. The airlines expect the deal to close in the second half of the year. They haven’t decided on a new name or headquarters. Integrating an airline could take years.

While they both fly narrow-body Airbus jets, executives haven’t said whether they’ll change their distinct Airbus liveries: Spirit’s bright-yellow planes and Frontier’s planes that feature paintings of wildlife on their tails.

Pressure on rivals

If they raised fares after the merger, that could drive customers to look for cheaper tickets on other carriers, including other ultralow-cost airlines, which would be counterproductive, analysts said. 

Samuel Engel, senior vice president at consulting firm ICF, said the benefit to travelers would come not just from lower fares from the combined airline but from how rival airlines respond to their newest competitor.

Fare wars have broken out in the past when those airlines expanded in major carriers’ hubs. Spirit and Frontier have expanded flying capacity more than 467% since 2017, compared with the national average of 355%, according to aviation data and consulting firm Cirium.

The two carriers overlap on about 520 of more than 2,800 routes, Cirium data shows.

Cost control

Segmenting in the skies

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