▪ This is the second of two parts.
When its orchid-colored Airbus A330s coasted into the runway at Miami International Airport last week, Icelandic low-cost airline WOW air also helped propel South Floridians into a new era of travel.
WOW’s $99 introductory one-way fares to Iceland, for instance, are so low they make taking the 3,800-mile journey to Reykjavik more cost-effective than a 200-mile hop to Tampa. Its $149 connecting flights to Paris, London, Amsterdam, Berlin and Frankfurt, too, have travelers seeing one word: vacation.
The flights are so attractive that downtown Miami-based web designer Kiwami Livingston is bumping up a trip to Belgium this summer from a week-and-a-half stop to a month-long European extravaganza.
“I’m happy I didn’t book it yet because what that means is a trip that’s $1,300, $1,400 is gonna be [a fraction of the cost] — that’s a big deal,” Livingston, who is an avid traveler, said outside of MIA on his return from a trip to Puerto Rico.
Aventura resident Sue Sussman said her son is running a marathon in Iceland in August, and although she never considered flying there, that may change now.
“For a $99 flight, it might be fun to go cheer him on,” Sussman wrote to the Herald. “You never know!”
Airports have to grow; if airports don’t grow, they become ripe for golf courses.
Emilio Gonzalez, aviation director and CEO of MIA
WOW is one — albeit the most talked-about — addition to MIA’s roster of airlines. And it’s part of massive moves at both MIA and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport intended to make the airports among the country’s finest.
Historically, Fort Lauderdale has been a low-cost alternative to MIA with primarily domestic routes and a smaller facility, while MIA has been a largely full-service international airport with legacy carriers. These days, those lines are blurring as MIA moves to attract more budget and international carriers to diversify its portfolio and FLL welcomes major international airlines, including Emirates Airlines and British Airways, and continues to boost its domestic portfolio.
“When I land [at FLL] and see an Emirates plane from Dubai and wide-body air crafts from Brazil and Norway and elsewhere, I’m always temped to make sure I am in the right place.” said Seth Kaplan, managing partner at Airline Weekly. “Ten years ago, even more recently for that matter, the only service to outside North America, the Caribbean and Central America, was [to] Bogotá.”
At MIA, WOW marks the 106th airline flying from the county-owned airport — that’s the largest number of airlines servicing a single U.S. airport (and more than most airports around the world).
“Airports have to grow; if airports don’t grow, they become ripe for golf courses,” said Emilio Gonzalez, aviation director and CEO of MIA.
In the next quarter, through June, MIA is projected to increase the number of passengers that can fly from the airport — its “seat count” — by 2.4 percent to 6.5 million, according to trade publication Airline Weekly’s analysis of data from Diio Mi. FLL will grow by 15.3 percent to 4.9 million seats available for passengers on an increased number of planes scheduled for departure.
In the past five years, carriers flying from Fort Lauderdale have added 34 new destinations. Twenty-three of those are international routes from an airport whose three major carriers are low-cost airlines JetBlue Airways, Spirit Airlines and Southwest Airlines, which have primarily domestic routes. But that’s changing with each airline — and new airlines, too — making major investments in FLL on both the domestic and international side, including the construction of an international Southwest terminal to handle more foreign travel.
Since 2012, MIA has added 43 destinations, 36 of those international. The airport is aggressively pursing a nonstop route to Asia, is in talks with Israeli airline EL AL for a Tel Aviv-Miami route, and is engaged in its own infrastructure upgrades as it manages the growth.
“What’s happening at both airports, it’s really a bonanza for consumers,” Kaplan said.
Going low-cost at MIA
Miami International Airport is not, by all estimations, a cheap airport at which to land a plane. The cost to airlines per passenger boarding a plane at MIA is $19.61 in fiscal year 2017, compared to $5.06 at FLL, according to each airport.
Despite that, MIA has been able to secure nine low-cost carriers since 2009, the ninth being WOW, and new international airlines, such as Ireland’s Aer Lingus and Dominican Republic’s Dominican Wings, in an effort to diversify the airport’s offerings.
“All new routes are a deliberate attempt to ween us away from being always the gateway to the Americas, which we will always be. But we really want to be a real international airport — a true global gateway,” director Gonzalez said.
106 Total number of airlines with service to MIA, the most of any U.S. airport
That became particularly important last year, when arrivals from the airport’s No. 1 market, Brazil, dropped precipitously by 30 percent, or 600,000 passengers, from the year before, due to an economic downturn in the South American nation. But the airport still achieved a passenger arrival record of 44.6 million visitors, thanks in part to a 0.82 percent bump in international travelers.
Whether it’s adding new airlines to offset challenges in other destinations, or tapping into consumer demand for budget options, the expanded roster in Miami will likely mean lower costs for travelers.
Miami may be more attractive to airlines because of its name recognition around the world, but it still must fill its planes — and passengers care about price, said Henry Harteveldt, travel industry analyst at the Atmosphere Research Group in San Francisco.
“Without other budget airlines serving Miami International, airfares may be higher than they are elsewhere, and that poses a challenge to Miami International depending on the routes and destinations and where a customer lives,” Harteveldt said.
What’s happening at both airports, it’s really a bonanza for consumers. Seth
Kaplan, managing partner at Airline Weekly
Among the recently added low-cost airlines at MIA is Mexico-based Volaris. It launched service to Guadalajara and Mexico City in February because it saw a demand for more cost-effective routes from Miami, said Volaris’ chief commercial officer Holger Blankenstein.
“Volaris has identified an opportunity to bring low-fare service to the MIA-Mexico air market, which previously featured relatively high fares,” Blankenstein said in a statement. “We anticipate significant demand stimulation from leisure customers in Mexico that want to visit South Florida or connect through MIA as well as customers with a Mexican background that can now travel to Mexico more affordably than ever before.”
And, although demand may not be overwhelming to fly to Reykjavik on WOW, for example, there is huge demand for a cheaper alternative to get to Europe, which WOW also offers, said Airline Weekly’s Kaplan.
“That does put pressure on the airlines in the market,” Kaplan said.
In the past five years, carriers flying from Miami have added 43 new destinations. FLL has added 34 destinations.
American Airlines, which includes meals and checked bags in its international fare, may be not compelled to match WOW, whose no-frills fare doesn’t include bags or other amenities, “penny for penny,” Kaplan said.
“But they also can’t ignore it and just charge whatever they want.”
“The airline industry is very competitive, and it forces us to continue to innovate, continue to be on top of our performance, continue to offer great service,” added WOW CEO and founder Skúli Mogensen. “Ultimately the winner here is the consumer.”
Going international at FLL
Fort Lauderdale’s airport model centers around being a low-cost alternative to Miami, with low-cost flights growing in frequency since the 1990s. That continues to be true as FLL doubles down to build itself up.
Mark Gale, CEO and aviation director at FLL, said the airport has flights to 49 of the top 50 markets with demand to travel to Broward County. Among the top 25, 22 destinations are serviced by multiple airlines.
Two of the major carriers at FLL have committed to major route expansions. Southwest is building a five-gate international terminal to handle more foreign travel from Fort Lauderdale.
“When you have more than one airline [going to the same destination], it provides for competition, and the typical result is low airfares,” Gale said.
It’s also good news for business travelers. Bob Swindell, president and CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Economic Development Alliance, said the low-cost carriers at the airport give Fort Lauderdale a competitive advantage because they save companies booking business trips 22 to 27 percent on air travel costs.
Some international low-cost carriers have also increased service to FLL, such as Norwegian Air, which added a flight to Paris last August and is adding Barcelona and Caribbean island Guadeloupe this year. It also operates flights to London, Copenhagen, Oslo and Stockholm.
The top three carriers at the airport (JetBlue, Spirit and Southwest) are also making commitments to expand their route schedule, with the biggest growth plans coming from JetBlue and Southwest.
140 Number of daily departures from FLL JetBlue wants to have by 2020. Last year, it had 85 daily departures
JetBlue has committed to increase from 85 departures a day last year to 140 departures a day by about 2020. Southwest’s new five-gate international concourse at Terminal 1 will begin operating in June with the debut of a new international route for FLL: Belize.
Southwest spokesman Brad Hawkins said the airline has a list of 50 destinations it would like to reach from FLL over the next five years.
“In the macro sense, South Floridians are clamoring for more low-fare service, and they are looking to do that low-fare service in all directions,” Hawkins said. “People want a robust South Florida schedule.”
But adding more routes doesn’t solve issues of long lines or dreary facilities — and executives at both airports know that.
That’s why the No.1 thing both airports are tackling in 2017 is infrastructure.
“It’s like any business. If you run a supermarket and you have an additional 3 million people come in this year, wow, those floors are going to get a little dirtier, the registers are going to need a lot more maintenance,” said MIA’s Gonzalez. “It’s not an excuse, but it’s a reality. We want to clean this place up, we want to modernize it, we want to continue to invest in technology, which has been very helpful to us.”
To soothe passenger gripes over long processing lines, TSA funded the addition of 60 screening officers over the busy summer months, and the airport has retained them since. Last year, MIA became the first airport in the country to partner with Customs and Border Patrol to allow most of its international travelers to clear Customs without a second inspection — which usually backed up passengers waiting in long lines with their luggage. The airport now has 108 passport control kiosks, the second-most of any U.S. airport, which are self-service devices that allow passengers coming from abroad to pass through Customs more quickly.
Still, it hasn’t solved everything.
Returning home after a long flight, I have loved the kiosks. The problems are people that are not computer-savvy and can’t follow directions, so they slow everyone down. I still think [MIA] has a lot of things to iron out.
Rosa Santana, a yoga studio owner who lives in Hallandale Beach
“Returning home after a long flight, I have loved the kiosks,” said Rosa Santana, a yoga studio owner who lives in Hallandale Beach. “The problems are people that are not computer-savvy and can’t follow directions, so they slow everyone down. I still think [the airport] has a lot of things to iron out.”
On the infrastructure side, the airport is reopening part of Concourse E — which had been closed as renovations proceeded — with an enhanced federal inspection area for international arrivals this summer. MIA hopes the facility will reduce walking distance and alleviate wait times and congestion at the packed international arrivals Concourse D. The airport’s 10-year, $1.1 billion improvement plan for the Central Terminal (set for completion in 2025) continues in 2017 with upgrades to concourses E, F and G.
MIA is “shameless” when it comes to stealing innovative ideas from its competitors, Gonzalez said. The third version of its app will debut this year, expanding on its current use of beacon technology (the app has Google Maps-like location awareness) with proximity marketing. In other words, as travelers approach a store, vendors can send them notifications about discounts.
“We don’t have a monopoly on good ideas,” Gonzalez said. “These are the types of things you see in other airports, and people are using them, and you go, well, if they’re using them there, why won’t they use them here?”
MIA is reopening a part of Concourse E with an enhanced federal inspection area for international arrivals this summer. Work is ongoing at all four terminals at FLL.
Infrastructure enhancements at FLL are part of the reason some airlines are even considering upping their presence there. JetBlue, for instance, said when it announced future service plans to the airport that those additions were in tandem with upgrades to JetBlue’s facilities at the airport’s Terminal 3.
“The response we are getting from the airline community is, that they like this airport,” said FLL CEO Gale. “The only constraint is due to infrastructure.”
Every Terminal at FLL is getting a makeover by 2020. Terminal 1 will get the Southwest concourse and an upgraded post-security area with new shops and restaurants, a $300 million project. Terminal 2 will have a new security checkpoint and baggage claim, new shops and eateries post-security and a new Delta Air Lines lounge for a cost of $117 million. More concessions are also scheduled for Terminal 3, plus renovations to ticket counters and baggage claim (and the already-open connector bridge with Terminal 4) that will cost the airport $250 million. And at Terminal 4, a 14-gate facility will be completed by late 2018 with a new federal inspection area for a sticker price of $450 million.
Here, too, not all infrastructure changes have been a home run.
$2.3 billion Total cost of FLL’s current infrastructure project
After the airport eliminates its $7.50-a-day economy parking lot this month, passengers will instead have to pay twice as much — $15 a day — at a parking garage across from Terminal 1. Travelers will have a closer walk to the airport but will also find there are fewer space available than before.
Why? The airport’s rapid growth has necessitated moving its employees into the larger lot.
Already, there is griping. “The growth of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport is very welcomed, [but] closing the economy parking lot is a bad move,” Hallandale Beach resident Evelyn Stahl told the Herald last month.
Sometimes, growing isn’t all good news.
At the top of each airport’s future goal list is one major accomplishment each hopes to finally achieve.
MIA director Gonzalez never forgets his. It’s written on a large white paper flip chart next to his desk: Asia.
Miami International has long sought Asia-based carriers, but more so since 2015, when it convened an Asia Task Force to measure demand for nonstop service to the region. Last year’s meeting found that MIA is the largest leisure and business market among the top 20 markets in the U.S. without a direct route to Asia. The task force will meet with Asian airlines later this year to make the case for a route to Miami.
You may specialize in certain markets, but unless you can offer all customers all options, then you put yourself in a competitive disadvantage.
William D. Talbert, III, president and CEO of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau and a member of MIA’s Asia Task Force
William D. Talbert, III, president and CEO of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau, who sits on the task force, said service to Asia is “critical.” A daily flight from a major Asian city such as Shanghai is projected to have between $70 million and $100 million in annual economic impact to Miami-Dade, according to MIA marketing director Chris Mangos. And service there would open MIA to the only region it has yet to add to its diverse airline portfolio.
“You may specialize in certain markets, but unless you can offer all customers all options, then you put yourself in a competitive disadvantage,” Talbert said.
Gonzalez predicts the airport won’t secure an Asian carrier for another two years.
At FLL, meanwhile, the airport’s mission is to, simply, become bigger and better.
FLL director Gale’s schedule this year calls for continuing to build a master plan that assesses what infrastructure needs to be built over the next 10 to 20 years. (Although he concedes that he’s looking forward to getting “the construction behind us.”)
As great as Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport is, we want to continue to make sure that it’s cutting edge.
Mark Gale, aviation director and CEO of FLL
The airport is looking at everything from the airfield to the terminal infrastructure to the land side operations.
“Ingress and egress is where we will be paying a lot of attention and doing a lot of work — parking garages, roadway systems, a railway connection, rental car facilities, how we connect to other forms of transportation, possibly an automated people mover,” Gale said. “As great as Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport is, we want to continue to make sure that it’s cutting-edge.”
Last week’s article in Business Monday focused on the impact of aviation and aerospace on Miami-Dade’s economy. Go to www.miamiherald.com.
This article includes comments from the Public Insight Network, an online community of people who have agreed to share their insights with WLRN and the Miami Herald. Become a source at wlrn.org/topic/public-insight-network