Spirit Airlines jumps into Cleveland market – Cleveland Plain Dealer

Spirit's new taxi like livery seen at Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Photo: Andrew Thon – OPShots Contributor //

Spirit’s new taxi like livery seen at Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Photo: Andrew Thon – OPShots Contributor //

Low-cost carrier Spirit Airlines announced Wednesday it was entering the increasingly competitive market at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, with nonstop service to eight popular destinations including Orlando, Florida; Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; and Los Angeles.

Spirit — which boasts of ultra-low fares combined with fees for bags, beverages and almost everything else — brings its no-frills approach to flying to Cleveland, starting January 15.

“Today’s announcement further establishes CLE as the preferred low fare airport in the region,” said Airport Director Ricky Smith. “We thank Spirit Airlines for choosing Northeast Ohio, specifically CLE, as their newest airport market.”

On Jan. 15, Spirit will start flying to popular Florida cities Orlando, Tampa and Fort Myers; Fort Lauderdale joins the lineup on Feb. 5, along with Dallas/Fort Worth and Las Vegas. Flights commence April 16 to Los Angeles and Myrtle Beach.

Myrtle Beach is the only city not currently accessible via nonstop service from Cleveland.

These new Spirit flights bring to 25 the total number of routes added in the eight months since United Airlines announced plans to pull its hub from Cleveland Hopkins. In that same announcement, United said it would cancel nonstop service to 40 cities.

In recent months, Denver-based Frontier Airlines, another low-cost carrier, has been on an expansion spree in Cleveland, adding routes to Phoenix, Las Vegas and several cities in Florida.

Wednesday’s announcement from Spirit intensifies the competition in the skies above Northeast Ohio.

Mark Kopczak, vice president of network planning for Spirit, said the airline has been looking at Cleveland since long before United announced its pull back.

“It’s a multi-year process,” he said. “These airplanes are expensive. We don’t make quick, rash decisions.”

He added, “Even with United in the market, we saw an opportunity in Cleveland.”

The United cuts, however, may have accelerated the airline’s decision making.

The airline – which started as a charter service in Detroit in the early 1990s and moved its headquarters to Fort Lauderdale in 1999 – has been on an expansion spree of late, adding both airplanes and destinations, including new service in Kansas City, and new routes in Chicago, Minneapolis and elsewhere earlier this year. With Cleveland, the airline now services 57 destinations in the United States, the Caribbean and South America.

Last week, the airline made headlines when it announced plans to paint its 57 planes a hard-to-ignore bright yellow and black. Kopczak explained the color scheme this way: “It’s different. Spirit is a very different airline. We want people to understand that we’re different.”

Kopczak makes no apologies for what others criticize about Spirit: the nickel and diming of passengers for every amenity, including fees for bags, beverages and advanced seat assignments.

“We empower our customers to save money by allowing them to pick and choose the services they want,” said Paul Berry, a Spirit spokesman.

Even with the fees, Spirit’s fares are typically 40 percent lower than other airlines’ prices on the same routes, said Berry, citing a government study.

Kopczak said Spirit was not allowed to publicize fares on the new routes until they go on sale – which will happen tomorrow.

All routes will be offered daily except Tampa (three times a week) and Fort Myers (four times a week). In addition, flights to Tampa, Fort Myers and Myrtle Beach will be seasonal (service in the winter for the Florida cities, summer for South Carolina).

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Cole Goldberg

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