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Frontier and Spirit Airlines to take on the pandemic-induced travel hiatus with $6.6B deal

February 7, 2022, 5:24 PM UTC

Frontier Airlines announced it had agreed to purchase its low-cost rival Spirit Airlines this morning in a deal valued at $6.6 billion. It’s huge news for the airline industry as a whole—as well as for those among us who enjoy computing the size of our belongings with a tape measure and flying with leg room that makes the most sense for a 12-year-old. 

The merger is a rather aggressive move during what’s been the worst two years imaginable for the airline industry. Even after a whopping $16 billion in federal grants, the largest U.S. passenger airlines experienced a collective $841 million in pre-tax losses in the first nine months of 2021, per data from Airlines for America. That was even prior to the surge of the Omicron variant and then the weather that grounded thousands of flights each day over the holiday season.

But that’s precisely why it may make sense for Frontier and Spirit to combine right now: Airline staffing shortages are at new heights, and things aren’t going all too well alone. Spirit suffered an $87.2 million loss in the last three months of 2021. In the company’s most recent earnings call in October, Spirit CEO Ted Christie warned of high fuel prices, staffing issues—particularly in Fort Lauderdale—and a surge in Delta cases. “The direct and indirect impacts of the pandemic have lasted longer than anyone could have predicted,” he said on a call with analysts. And that was months ago, prior to Omicron making everything a whole lot worse. Frontier’s net income was net positive in its latest-reported quarterly earnings report, but was down 61% from 2019 levels.

This deal will also put the two budget airlines in a better position to go up against “The Big Four”—American, Delta, United, and Southwest. These companies hold a remarkably close reign on the market, with more than 80% of market share of domestic air travel in the U.S. A new Frontier-Spirit entity would leapfrog JetBlue and Alaska Airlines and become the fifth largest carrier in the market, according to an investor presentation the companies jointly issued this morning. It would also give them the ability to unite staffing forces in the few dozen airports they both operate in.

While Frontier is acquiring Spirit (Frontier shareholders will own a 51.5% stake in the combined entity, while Spirit shareholders will own about 48.5%), Spirit actually has more planes in its fleet, with 173 at 2021 year-end compared to Frontier’s approximately 112 aircraft. The new entity, which is expected to form after the deal closes in the second half of 2022, pending regulatory approval, will be making more than 1,000 flights a day to more than 145 airports. The entity plans to add an additional 10,000 workers by 2026.

Despite many predictions that the airline industry would shrink amid new deals during COVID, we actually haven’t seen much consolidation so far, apart from Korean Air’s planned acquisition of Asiana Airlines, originally announced in November 2020. On a global scale, the sector has been rather sleepy, particularly since governments back many of the largest airlines. There have been attempts to tag-team: American Airlines and JetBlue tried to consolidate operations in Boston and New York in 2020, but the Department of Justice recently sued in response to that attempted alliance.

Frontier and Spirit haven’t said whether flights will operate under one of the names, both, or a new brand altogether. Perhaps they’ll merge the two into something like “Spontier” or “Frontier-it.” No one has ever paid me to name a brand, and they shouldn’t start anytime soon.

See you tomorrow,

Jessica Mathews
Twitter: @jessicakmathews
Email: jessica.mathews@fortune.com

VENTURE DEALS

- Flexport, a San Francisco-based inventory tracking and global logistics platform, raised $935 million in Series E funding. Andreessen Horowitz and MSD Partners led the round and were joined by investors including Shopify, DST Global, Founders Fund, SoftBank Vision Fund, and Kevin Kwok

- Polygon, a Navi Mumbai, India-based layer 2 blockchain on Ethereum that speeds up transactions and reduces gas fees, raised $450 million in funding led by Sequoia Capital India and was joined by investors including SoftBank Vision Fund, Galaxy Digital, Galaxy Interactive, Tiger Global, Republic Capital, Brevan Howard co-founder Alan Howard, and Shark Tank co-host Kevin O’Leary.

- Aleo, a San Francisco-based platform for building private blockchain-based applications, raised $200 million in Series B funding. Kora Management and SoftBank Vision Fund led the round and were joined by investors including Tiger Global, Sea Capital, Slow Ventures, Samsung Ventures, and a16z

- Koneksa, a New York-based digital biomarker designing and validating company for accelerating drug development, raised $45 million in Series C funding led by AyurMaya and was joined by investors including Takeda Ventures, Velocity Capital, McKesson Ventures, Merck Global Health Innovation Fund, Novartis (dRx Capital), Spring Mountain Capital, and Waterline Ventures.

- Reliance Health, a Nigeria and Texas-based digital healthcare provider focused on emerging markets, raised $40 million in Series B funding led by General Atlantic and was joined by investors including Partech, Picus Capital, Tencent Exploration, Africa Healthcare Master Fund, P1 Ventures, Laerdal Million Lives Fund, and M3.

- Midas, a Istanbul, Turkey-based retail investing startup, raised $11 million in funding. Spark Capital and Earlybird Digital East Fund led the round and were joined by investors including Nigel Morris and Revo Capital

- CogniFiber, a Rosh HaAyin, Israel-based in-fiber phototonic processor developer, raised $6 million in Series A funding led by Chartered Group.

- Primex Finance, a decentralized prime brokerage liquidity protocol for DEX-agnostic cross-margin trading, raised $5.7 million in seed funding led by CoinFund and Stratos Technologies

- Actable AI, a London based no-code advanced analytics platform, raised $1.2 million in pre-seed funding led by Begin Capital and was joined by investors including Charlotte Street Capital and Malta Enterprise.

EXITS

- Press Ganey agreed to acquire Forsta, a London-based customer experience and market research software company for enterprises and market research professionals, from EQT and Verdane. Financial terms were not disclosed.

OTHER

- Frontier Group Holdings agreed to acquire Spirit Airlines, a Miramar, Fla.-based budget airline, for $2.9 billion.

- Bumble acquired Fruitz, a French dating app company. Financial terms were not disclosed.

- DriveWealth acquired Crypto-Systems, a digital asset trading firm. Financial terms were not disclosed.

- Peloton, a New York-based interactive fitness bike company, is working with an adviser to explore a sale, per Bloomberg. Amazon and Nike are reportedly potential suitors.

IPOS 

- Abu Dhabi Ports Group, an Abu Dhabi-based logistics, transport, and trade facilitator, raised 4 billion dirhams ($1.1 billion) from a share sale, per Bloomberg. ADQ owns the company.

- Ebanx, a Curitiba, Brazil-based cross-border payments fintech, is delaying its planned IPO due to recent market volatility, according to Bloomberg. Advent International backs the firm.

PEOPLE

- Anthony Civale, COO of New York-based private equity firm Apollo Global Management, will retire from his position in July and transition into an advisory role, per a memo seen by Bloomberg.

- AXA Venture Partners, a New York and Paris-based venture capital firm, promoted Marin Chauvin to vice president. 

- BayPine, the Boston-based private equity firm, promoted Tom O’Rourke to partner, Charles Rayner to managing director, and Emily Osman to vice president. It hired Farhan Siddiqi as operating partner. Formerly, he was with Ahold Delhaize and Fresh Direct.

- Mainsail Partners, a San Francisco-based private equity firm, promoted Phil Stern to operating principal and Tolliver Bell to vice president.

- TowerBrook Capital, a London and New York-based private equity firm, promoted Jonathan Bilzin and Karim Saddi to co-CEOs.

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