Potential Southwest Airlines/Frontier Airlines Deal: Issue of Denver Profitability


If it’s Monday and this week’s issue of PlaneBusiness Banter is not posted yet — you know the reason. Yep, it’s another monster earnings issue. This week we take a long look at the earnings results and dissect the earnings calls from United Airlines, JetBlue, Alaska Air Group, AirTran and Delta Air Lines.

Talk about a group with a split personality. Three of these airlines posted profits. Two didn’t.

Last week’s issue apparently clocked in a little under what I had estimated — at 74 pages someone wrote me. This week’s is probably closer to 85. Happy reading. We will be posted later today.

Meanwhile, there is no question that the big story here in the U.S. domestic airline market today continues to be the bankruptcy bid by Southwest Airlines for Frontier Airlines.

There are way too many angles to cover here in terms of this attempt by Southwest to grab Frontier, and I’ll be talking about some of those in this week’s PBB.

However, there is one big falsehood that I want to dispel that a number of you have written to me about, and which, for whatever reason, seems to have been picked up by an analyst at Gimme Credit.

The questions concern a quote that was used in a Ft. Worth Star-Telegram story concerning the move.

In this story that ran Thursday, reporter Andrea Ahles quotes “Wall Street” Gimme Credit analyst Craig Hutson as saying, “Southwest entered Denver again in January 2006, and it has been among its most successful markets.”

I do not believe this is the case. Far from it. Frontier Airlines has given Southwest fits. I think it’s clear that Southwest thought they were going to go into Denver and kill Frontier. Didn’t happen.

I’m not sure who this guy is, or what his background is, but according to the Wall Street analyst who I think knows Southwest Airlines‘ the best from stem to stern — this is not the case. That analyst is Gary Chase with Barclays Capital, formerly Lehman Brothers.

There is no question that if you listen to the airline talk about Denver on its earnings calls, you would get the impression that everything is just rosy-posey in the Mile High city.

But as Gary Chase reaffirmed in his research note on the proposed deal Friday,

Our analysis suggests that Southwest is losing a significant amount of money in Denver while Frontier has been profitable year to date. Frontier has made substantial cost progress during its bankruptcy proceedings and currently enjoys a significant revenue advantage to Southwest in Denver markets. That combination defines the contrast between what we believe is money making at Frontier and a loss position for Southwest.

And no, this is not the first time Gary has written similar comments. He has tracked their presence in Denver for many years. And other markets as well.