U.S. airlines' race to boost international flying is expanding service at U.S. airports beyond just the traditional gateways.
For January, airlines have scheduled 1,790 foreign departures a day from continental U.S. airports, 4.7% more than a year earlier, a USA TODAY analysis of data from OAGback Aviation Solutions.
Though Miami and New York John F. Kennedy remain the busiest airports for international flights, places such as Fort Lauderdale, Hartford, Conn., Cleveland and Denver have seen double-digit annual growth.
Each of the six traditional U.S. airlines — American, United, Delta, Continental, Northwest and US Airways — have been boosting international markets, partly to escape the cut-throat competition of the domestic market.
Discounters JetBlue, Spirit and Frontier are expanding international flying, mostly to the Caribbean and Mexico. A new breed of business class airlines — Silverjet and Eos, for example — is growing on business routes such as New York-London. And, at the same time, foreign carriers such as Lufthansa, Qatar and Jet Airways are flying to new U.S. cities as they take delivery of new, long-range aircraft.
Airports, meanwhile, want to cash in on the bonanza, which promises to get richer after March, when the recent Open Skies Treaty between the U.S. and the European Union dismantles many barriers that now restrict trans-Atlantic service.
"These airports want to participate in this growth, because this is the direction of the future," says Chris Spidle, research director for Sabre Airline Solutions.
Charlotte, for example, plans to add a 25-gate international terminal that would open in four years. Austin-Bergstrom plans to build a special, no-frills terminal for Mexican low-cost carrier VivaAerobus, which is seeking approvals to fly to six Mexican cities, including Cancun and Guadalajara.
At Fort Lauderdale, Spirit Airlines now has daily flights to Costa Rica and Peru, and the airport is now angling for its first route to the United Kingdom since before 9/11.
"We're really a busy international terminal," says Steve Belleme, the airport's business development chief.
In January, Fort Lauderdale will handle 80 departures a day, 23% more than last year, the USA TODAY analysis shows.
Though Fort Lauderdale still has just 80 daily, non-stop international flights vs. nearby Miami's 180, it's growing at a faster rate, thanks mainly to discounter Spirit Airlines and small commuter airline Lynxair. Spirit has added or expanded service to the Bahamas, Haiti, Costa Rica, Mexico and Peru. It's catering to vacationers and people with family ties to those countries.
International growth is so brisk that the airport is adding another lane at the security checkpoint. It's also increasing its customs facility to handle more than 700 passengers an hour.
In January, Denver will have 36 flights a day, 16% more than a year ago. Denver-based discounter Frontier has driven most of the growth, with new or expanded service to Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico; San Jose, Costa Rica; and Vancouver, Canada. But German airline Lufthansa continued its U.S. expansion by nearly doubling flying capacity to Germany by adding service to Munich.
At Cleveland, Continental has added twice-daily service to Ottawa, Canada. At Hartford, Northwest now has a daily flight to Amsterdam.
Mark Treadaway, the airport's chief airline recruiter for Washington Dulles, said attracting new international service to traditional gateways such as his will get tougher, because new longer-range aircraft can fly to more U.S. cities. At the same time, some of the governmental restrictions on such flights are fading away.
Nonetheless, in January, airlines have scheduled 57 non-stop international flights a day at Dulles — 18% more than a year ago, the analysis shows.
Among the new countries served from Dulles in the last year: Ireland, China, Panama, Italy, Spain and Qatar.