The first Spirit Airlines flight, headed for Newark, N.J., took off from Charlotte Douglas International Airport at 6 a.m. Thursday, marking another step in the airline’s North Carolina expansion.
Spirit announced in February that Charlotte would be its fourth destination in the state with direct flights to four cities: Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Orlando, Newark, N.J., and Baltimore/Washington.
The first flight in Charlotte builds on a recent expansion by the low-cost airline in North Carolina. The airline began its North Carolina service in Asheville and Greensboro in 2018. In May, Spirit launched eight daily non-stop flights to seven destinations at the Raleigh-Durham airport, said Spirit Vice President of Network Planning John Kirby.
“We really appeal to places that have big millennial populations,” Kirby said of Spirit’s recent North Carolina expansion. “We’ve seen tremendous growth across the entire state, both as a destination as well as an origination spot, so we’re very bullish on North Carolina.”
Following Spirit’s announcement in February, American Airlines, which is the dominant carrier at Charlotte Douglas, said it would increase the number of average daily flights to 700 from 664 by the end of the year. American’s expanded offering would include flights to the four cities serviced by Spirit.
Despite American’s increased service, Kirby said Spirit is not trying to compete with the Texas -based airline.
“They’re far and away the largest carrier with over 90% of the (Charlotte) market,” he said. “We’re just trying to offer an alternative.”
Until Charlotte Douglas adds to its 106 gates as part of a $2.5 billion capital improvement program, Kirby said Spirit cannot grow in Charlotte.
“We’re very pleased with the bookings to date but our ability to grow a lot is very limited by capacity here,” he said. “We literally got the last gate that was available for preferential at the airport.”