Frontier preps Feb. 11 restart from New Castle Airport
NEW CASTLE – After more than a year of waiting following the announcement of Frontier Airlines’ return to the New Castle Airport, the first green-and-white planes will take off for Orlando on Feb. 11, officials confirmed.
State leaders and officials with the Denver-based, low-cost air carrier heralded the return of passenger service to Delaware in a January 2020 ceremony, but the excitement was spoiled by the unforeseen COVID-19 pandemic. Three-times-a-week flights were originally scheduled to begin in May but were pushed back to November as the pandemic quickly diminished consumers’ appetite for travel. In August, Frontier pushed its timeline back to February 2021, and the carrier is prepared to finally begin service.
“We are absolutely thrilled to be launching the only commercial air service from Wilmington-New Castle Airport,” Frontier Airlines President and CEO Barry Biffle said in a statement. “We look forward to providing an affordable and convenient air travel option for residents in the greater Delaware area.”
Flights on the 180-seat Airbus 320s will take off Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays from the airport off U.S. Route 13, designated ILG, and arrive at Orlando International Airport (MCO). The airline’s online booking service showed round-trip air fares for as low as $37 in the earliest available flights.
Evidence of the pandemic continues, as Frontier requires masks to be worn by passengers on two-and-a-half-hour flights to Florida. Temperature screenings of passengers and crew before boarding are also company policy, with passengers required to sign an acknowledgement that they haven’t been around a COVID-positive person for 14 days. The company is also using disinfectant foggers and air filtration systems to fight the spread of the virus.
In preparation for Frontier’s return, the airport’s operator, the Delaware River & Bay Authority (DRBA), recently completed a $2 million renovation to the terminal, including the new Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoint and baggage screening areas as well as the secure area of the terminal.
“One of the DRBA’s goals for Wilmington-New Castle Airport has always been to establish quality, sustainable air service for our community and Frontier’s return is both a commitment to Delaware and a testament to the market sustainability of passenger demand at this airport,” Stephen D. Williams, DRBA deputy executive director and airports director, said in a statement. “With the support of our colleagues at TSA, the state of Delaware will no longer be the only state in the union without regularly scheduled commercial service.”
Frontier last operated flights from New Castle Airport between July 2013 and June 2015, running non-stop flights to eight different airports in the South and Midwest, including Orlando, which was reportedly the airline’s most successful route here.
Daniel Shurz, senior vice president of commercial operations for Frontier Airlines, said last year before the pandemic struck that the return to Delaware was due to the airline’s passenger growth in the Philadelphia market, a 20% reduction in costs, and data that indicated a strong customer base in Delaware.
Frontier, like all airlines, has been battered by a precipitous fall in air passenger travel through the pandemic, though, as interstate and international quarantines discouraged travel. Most companies canceled in-person events and meetings out of caution and leisure travel was severely hampered by public health restrictions.
According to federal transportation data, Frontier saw about 68.5% of its seats filled through the first 10 months of 2020, compared to an annual total of nearly 89% in 2019. The airline flew about 73,300 flights through October of last year, or roughly 35% fewer than the first 10 months of 2019 when it flew about 113,300.