Unique: Spirit Airlines Adds Flight Between LGA & LAX

Filed Under: Spirit

Spirit Airlines has today announced plans to add three new routes out of New York LaGuardia Airport, though there’s one route in particular that I find to be fascinating.

Spirit Airlines’ LaGuardia transcon flight

As of June 12, 2021, Spirit Airlines will operate a Saturday-only service between New York LaGuardia (LGA) and Los Angeles (LAX).

This 2,469 mile will operate with the following schedule:

New York to Los Angeles departing 7:20AM arriving 10:30AM
Los Angeles to New York departing 1:30PM arriving 10:05PM

LaGuardia’s perimeter rule

You might be thinking “why on earth are you talking about a once weekly transcon flight on Spirit Airlines, of all airlines?” I find this route so interesting since it was last operated by any airline 15 years ago, in 2006.

This all comes down to LaGuardia’s perimeter rule. With this, airlines are prohibited from operating nonstop flights to points more than 1,500 miles away from the airport. Why does the perimeter rule exist? Well, it was put into place by the Port Authority to ultimately protect New York JFK and Newark airports.

There are two exceptions to the perimeter rule — flights to Denver, and flights on Saturdays. For anyone wondering about the Denver exception, that exists because when the rule was put into place in 1984, that was the only 1,500+ mile route operating, so an exception was made for that.

The perimeter rule doesn’t apply on Saturdays, given that LaGuardia is largely a business airport, so it’s a much quieter day for the airport. That’s also exactly what Spirit Airlines is taking advantage of here. Of course there’s a certain irony here — long term LGA to LAX would be an absolute prime business route, but now we’re seeing an ultra low cost carrier operate this route on the weekend.

Why don’t more airlines operate this route?

It’s possible I’m missing something obvious here, in which case please let me know. But why has no other airline operated an LGA to LAX flight on Saturdays within the past 15 years?

Airlines generally have some extra room in their schedule at LGA on weekends, and presumably American could at least route some of its A321Ts from LAX to LGA rather than JFK on Saturdays. So why don’t airlines do this? I can come up with a couple of answers, but I’m thinking I might be missing something:

  • Is this because balancing slots at JFK and LGA is too complicated? Pre-coronavirus there were “use it or lose it” restrictions on slots, so would transferring flights from JFK to LGA on Saturdays get airlines below minimum slot usage requirements?
  • Or is this ultimately about managing expectations? These routes are largely based around business travelers, so you don’t want to get people excited about flying between LGA and LAX, only to realize that only a small percentage of flights are able to operate this way.

Bottom line

Starting this summer, Spirit Airlines will operate a Saturday-only service between LGA and LAX. Spirit Airlines is the first airline in around 15 years to operate this route.

The reason this route largely isn’t served is because of LaGaurdia’s perimeter rule, which requires most 1,500+ mile flights out of the New York-area to operate out of EWR or JFK.

What’s your take on Spirit’s unique LGA to LAX flight? Brilliant, kind of pointless, or meh?

  1. It would seem it would degrade from an airlines EWR/JFK operations to run this 1 day a week…which is why I think we have never seen anyone do it. The people that don’t live and breathe travel will expect it to run daily, and not understand why it only runs 1 day a week. Also, how does the rule deal with IRROPS? If LGA has a storm/etc, can NK run a flight on Sunday instead, or is it a hard rule based on time and not on circumstance?

  2. Meh. Saturdays have always been a lull in travel — especially business travel. My guess is AA knows this and it’s why they don’t bother to reposition a premium heavy 321T for one day only — especially with way fewer international connection feeder options on the eastern bound flights. In addition, the commute to JFK vs LGA on a weekend is all the more easy to stomach as a passenger.

  3. This doesn’t really make sense.

    Spirit should have chosen to operate daily from EWR TO LAX, but I guess the Nyc to lax market is so big they figure they won’t have trouble filling a plane once a week

  4. I know LaGuardia is improving, but it would still suck to deal with LGA’s problems just to get on a Spirit flight for 5-6 hours. Godspeed, you brave souls looking to save a few bucks lol

  5. It’s great for publicity, but as noted, if the plane doesn’t go it would be a nightmare to reaccomodate on a connecting NK itinerary — maybe through FLL? Also if inbound LGA misses curfew or bad weather, ACY used to be the LGA diverting airport. That was WAY too much for me. I cannot imagine the chaos of flying that route for anyone less aware of these issues.

  6. “The people that don’t live and breathe travel will expect it to run daily, and not understand why it only runs 1 day a week.”

    Completely reversed.

    Normal people go to expedia, type nyc to la, put in their dates, and then pick whatever looks cheapest. Sometimes they’ll move the dates a day forward to save 30$. Why on earth would they care to investigate if the flight operates on Wednesdays?

    Saturday only flights are an industry staple.

  7. I’m imagining the lack of service is to do with rumway length / payload restrictions…?

  8. The perimeter rule wasn’t imposed to ‘protect’ JFK and EWR but help control the number of flights at LGA because it was getting over crowded.

  9. LGA/LAX Saturday flights I believe have been tried in the distant past with limited success. However, we’re in a different era than 20 years ago. AA for awhile even did LGA/ORD/SNA on a Saturday. This was around maybe 2005. I remember staying onboard at ORD as I was in F and seated very comfortably under a blanket. I also remember the FAs complaining there was no cleaning crew at ORD and they had to “tiddy” up the plane.

    Now flying Spirit LGA/LAX (sans the Big Front Seat) isn’t something that I’d want to experience.

  10. Once a week and strictly for leisure travelers. DL tried this route in 2005-2006 on a 757 and dropped it. US, and I think, AA have also tried LGA-PHX and / or LAS. None lasted but these were different times, different cost structures, etc…I don’t see NK making much of a splash on a once weekly LGA-LAX route, frankly.

  11. It’s all about money. I learned this when playing golf with Gerald Greenwald of United back in 2000. I asked why do you fly the EWR LHR route? He barked back at me. BECAUSE IT MAKES MONEY. I still kicked his ass at golf.

  12. @james s thats my point. If you hear cousin Bob flew Spirit, and liked it from LGA to LAX to visit Aunt Joan, you may be tempted to book just like him. Thats the entire reason behind loyalty programs. If there is NO option to fly it on other days, its mostly a mess. Its not worth the small profit it would make for the UA/DL/AA’s of the world.

  13. A321T is way too premium heavy to be put on Saturday LGAs, plus a new flagship catering contract at LGA (just for the few flights operating on a per-week basis). Planes need to be flown into LGA (from LAX SFO BOS etc) and backups will be hard to find for irrops.

  14. Only other airline it makes sense for is Southwest, since it doesn’t normally fly out of JFK or EWR at all, but does fly out of LGA.

  15. I don’t know why NK doesn’t offer LAX/LA Area flights out of a smaller airport, like ISP. Seems with leisure flying now being the ticket, people would sign up for a smaller airport…and you can fly it 7 days a week.

  16. If the rule was retracted, could we see more airlines operating transcon flights out of LGA? Perhaps even transatlantic?

  17. Two thumbs way up!!
    For anyone who’s tried to get into Manhattan by car from JFK, this is a real plus, even if it’s on a Saturday and the departure times are less than optimal.

  18. “Thats the entire reason behind loyalty programs.”

    No, the entire point is to get people to pay higher fares when charging the company card so they can cash in a fry trip to Aruba. Not really a thing with Spirit

  19. One thought I always wondered about is operating cost. Do we know anything about differences in operating costs, comparing JFK to LGA. Since JFK is larger and has seemingly more space, perhaps operations are less costly.
    My calculations are to always aim for JFK. Space means less ground congestion and long runways are never bad.

  20. Sometimes I feel these armchair cowboys writing these articles and commenting think that us airline professionals are smoking when making decisions. If a flight is daily or not is entirely irrelevant to the crowd Spirit is targeting and since they are leisure focused, they will easily spend a 1 week vacation in LA or NY. Once weekly flights are a touristic airline staple in Europe, it makes perfect sense for Spirit to offer this, not for any other airline despite Allegiant and Frontier maybe.

  21. Other airlines may not do it because of customer issues like parking. Fly Tuesday out of JFK and return Saturday to LGA. For mass transit folks ok but for people like me who drive that’s a problem. So 1x a week in and out of LGA would alienate some people who aren’t booking Saturday to Saturday service

    So to run the service for a few is likely not worth the operational costs

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