Frontier Airlines is being sold to William Franke, a pioneer of the cheap tickets and high fees airline business that has spread overseas and is growing in the U.S.
Franke is the former chairman of Spirit Airlines, which has earned consistent profits by jamming more seats on its planes and charging extra for things that other airlines do for free, such as printing a boarding pass at the airport, or using the overhead bin.
Frontier began moving in that direction last year as Republic Airways got ready to sell it. On Aug. 6 it began charging as much as $100 each way for carry-on bags for some tickets purchased somewhere other than Frontier's website. Those kinds of changes are what he wants to see there, he said in a phone interview.
He added that he'll want to be careful about "what's going to fit best with that passenger base. There may be differences between Allegiant and Spirit and Frontier, for example ... but in general we would be focused on the ultra-low-cost model."
His Indigo Partners LLC is buying Frontier for $36 million plus assumed debt.
The companies said they expect the sale to close in December if several conditions are met, including agreements being reached by the end of this month with the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA and a group tied to Frontier's former pilots union.
There's been a Frontier Airlines in Denver since the 1950s, but that airline was absorbed by People Express and disappeared in 1986. The current version was founded in 1994 by executives from the old Frontier. In 2008 it filed for bankruptcy protection after oil prices spiked. Republic outbid Southwest Airlines to buy Frontier in bankruptcy court in 2009. But Frontier was never a good fit with Republic's main business of operating regional flights for big airlines such as Delta and United.
As recently as last year, nine out of 10 Frontier flights touched Denver. It's been well-thought-of there, where it was seen as an alternative to United and other big airlines. But it's been struggling in that unusually competitive city. United hauled 40 percent of domestic travelers there last year, followed by Southwest with 25 percent and Frontier with 22 percent. Frontier has been adding new cities, such as Trenton, N.J., and it began flying some routes that don't touch Denver at all, such as Kansas City, Mo., to Puerto Vallarta, and Omaha, Neb., to Orlando, Fla.
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