Raleigh-Durham International Airport has been picking up flights at a brisk pace, with four airlines announcing new destinations in January alone. The latest entrant is Spirit Airlines, the Florida-based budget carrier that will add routes to seven cities — Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Orlando, Fla., Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and New Orleans — beginning in May. Spirit already flies out of Asheville and Greensboro and plans to add service from Charlotte to four U.S. destinations in June.
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The self-described “ultra low-cost carrier” once had a reputation for excessive delays and cancellations and poor customer service. But the airline finished 2018 with a completion factor — the rate of noncanceled flights — topping 99%, CEO Ted Christie said on a February earnings call. Moreover, 81.1% of Spirit’s flights arrived on time during the first 10 months of the year, outperforming most U.S. competitors, Christie said. Shares are up 30% from a year ago, and Spirit was the best-performing airline stock in 2018, according to CNBC.
Spirit started as a trucking company in Michigan in 1964 and evolved into a charter-tour operator before rebranding and moving its headquarters to Miramar, Fla., in the 1990s.
The airline offers low ticket prices but charges customers fees for everything from water bottles to assigned seats. Spirit operates more than 600 daily flights to 73 destinations in the U.S., Latin America and the Caribbean.
RDU hosted 12.8 million passengers in 2018, up from 11.6 million in 2017. Spirit will become its 11th carrier. Unlike Charlotte Douglas International Airport and other hubs dominated by a single carrier, traffic at RDU is split fairly evenly among Delta, American and Southwest airlines. Low-fare operator Allegiant also has expanded quickly at the Triangle site.