6 Questions with Frontier CEO Barry Biffle

Blue Sky News goes 1 on 1 with airline leader during recent visit

By Bob Kerlik

Published April 15, 2024

Read Time: 4 mins


Editor’s note: Frontier CEO Barry Biffle visited Pittsburgh last week in preparation for Frontier Airlines’ May expansion in Pittsburgh. He sat down with Blue Sky News in between meetings to discuss future plans and the region’s momentum.

Q: What are Frontier’s plans for the year?

A: Definitely see us continue to grow in the heartland of the United States as well as our gateway in San Juan, Puerto Rico. We have been pretty open about taking the oversupply of capacity in Florida and distributing it into underserved, overpriced markets all across the United States.

Q: Why do you think that’s a great opportunity for Frontier right now?

A: It’s a great opportunity because what we’ve seen, even pre-pandemic, is there’s places like Pittsburgh that have really come back in the last 10 to 20 years as a city but I think it’s been largely ignored. If you look at the economic activity in the city – as testament, last night everywhere we went Downtown was packed, it’s a just a great city, great place to live, great place to work – it’s on the uptick economically. But yet you don’t have for your size city the amount of nonstop service – low cost, nonstop service – that most other cities of your size have.

Q: Why did your team select Pittsburgh to make a big investment?

A: A few years ago, we actually tried to grow in Pittsburgh but had the same thing happen in Pittsburgh on a micro scale that’s happened in the last year (nationally). We came in and Spirit added service, so at the end of the day there were too many of us trying to serve Florida and the main leisure markets. So we took a step back – and I will say you have a real asset in [CEO] Christina [Cassotis] because she’s been persistent – and she convinced us to take another look. We started looking at all the places that are not Florida and not leisure.

We started looking at Philadelphia, as an example, and realized, well gosh, the average fares are $300 each way, $600 roundtrip. You’ve got a couple thousand people a day driving between Pittsburgh and Philly, paying $36.50 if they have EZ Pass and $70 if they don’t. And no telling whatever construction issues you may be dealing with. (We) have a huge opportunity. It should be as cheap to go to Philly as it is to go to Florida. We’re here to make sure that happens. The list just starts at Philly and goes on.

A Frontier A321neo in the carrier’s “America’s Greenest Airline” livery taxis into its gate at PIT on May 23, 2023. (Photo by Evan Dougherty)

Q: Talk about the business traffic you see going back and forth between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

A: I think there’s a lot of business traffic because someone else is paying for the ticket. At $600 roundtrip, if your mom calls and says your grandmother is sick, are you taking a family of four, at $2,400? No. You’re either driving or not going, so that’s the reality. I think the business will stimulate some, especially with a lot of the entrepreneurs that are buying their own ticket. But I think the big stimulation will be in the leisure and (visiting friends and relatives). We’re opening it up and making it free-flowing to get between the two cities.

Q: Pittsburgh has changed a lot in the last 20 years. What are the biggest differences you see?

A: It’s changed a whole lot. In the early 2000s I ran marketing and sales for US Airways around the time that the hub closed. And I can tell you that I remember coming over here for account visits and various events. Downtown, there was no one after work hours. At night, you didn’t have the scene you have now. It was a Tuesday night last night, everything was full… there’s lots of activities. Twenty years ago, you just didn’t have the vibrant activity you have. You have a young crowd, this tech crowd. I think it’s just night and day.

Q: What else do you want people to know?

A: We are really excited to be here, and we have a lot of planes on order. I have told the business community here that you get the service you deserve. What I mean by that is that we lower the fares generally across the board for everybody. If you stick with your fill-in-the-blank carrier that you’ve been flying because they lowered their price, I will pull the flights. And when it snaps back to $600 to $900 don’t call and complain. You got the service you deserve. If you support us, and it works really well, then we’ll do Pittsburgh to Cincinnati, Pittsburgh to Kansas City, Pittsburgh to more places and that’s the reality. We have the aircraft. We can make the investment.

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