United Agrees to Double Palmdale Flights

Looks like United has given in and agreed to modify its Palmdale flying schedule. Beginning in September, instead of two daily CRJs to SFO, there will be four daily Brasilias, the 30 seat turboprop that United has slowly been phasing out. Anyone want to bet that this will work? Anyone? Bueller?

If you read my post earlier this month on the subject, you’ll know that I’ve been critical of LAWA’s efforts to pour time and money into Palmdale. And if you haven’t read the comments section, I’d highly recommend it. I apparently hit quite a nerve with someone doing work for LAWA, and it’s an entertaining read to say the least.

But my position hasn’t changed. I still don’t see this working right now. Let’s look at the fundamentals. Palmdale is in the heart of the Antelope Valley, an area that has seen rapid growth over the years because of its relatively affordable housing. But guess what? It’s an exurb, and those distant communities are taking the biggest hit in the current economic downturn. If you’d like to do a little reading, you can see this article from the LA Times in April 2007. Things have only gotten worse since then.

So it’s a probable that Palmdale alone isn’t going to be supporting major flights. There has been an effort to get people from the Santa Clarita area, the next major popular center, to use the airport by establishing bus service. 08_06_19 pmdmapNow if you don’t know where that is, it doesn’t really matter, but you can see it on the map at left. What matters is that it’s about 20 miles further to go from Santa Clarita to Palmdale than it is to go to Burbank. Even with the traffic, why would you go to Palmdale from there?

You wouldn’t. If you want to go to the Bay Area, you can fly Southwest or United from Burbank for less money and on more frequent flights than out of Palmdale. And it’s not like we’re talking LAX here. Burbank is a nice, small, and easy airport to navigate.

So can service work in Palmdale? Eventually. However, I don’t think San Francisco is going to be sustainable for a long, long time, even with more frequency. My guess is that any sustainable service at all is a few years off still at best. That’s why LAWA, the federal government, and others have had to pour $4.6m into this new service just to see if it can work. So far, the results haven’t been good.

Admittedly, the schedule will greatly improve with these new flights. Instead of northbound departures at only 6a and 11a, there will now be flights at 6a, 1015a, 1220p, and 645p. And instead of southbound flights at only 918a and 925p, there will be flights at 830a, 1035a, 5p, and 1020p. That being said, the flights will now take 18 to 33% longer on the northbound flight in the slow Brasilias. Block time increases from 1h9m to 1h32m northbound and from 1h13m to 1h26m southbound. That gives the Santa Clarita residents yet another reason to drive to Burbank.

I just have to wonder why United has decided to honor this request. They must still have a bunch of Brasilias under contract that are sitting around in the desert somewhere so they figured they’d give it a shot. All I know is that in May, the airline filled 42% of its seats. That means 42 out of the 100 seats flown each way per day were filled on average. Now there will be 120 seats in the market, and even if you can stimulate traffic by 50% because of this new glorious schedule, you’ll still only have a 52.5% seat factor. That seems quite optimistic to me, and it’s not going to cut it unless you’re getting some fairly incredible fares.

You can bet I’ll be keeping an eye on this one as time goes by. I’m heading out of town this afternoon and won’t have email access again until Sunday, so please write comments and I will approve them (if necessary) when I return.


20 Responses to United Agrees to Double Palmdale Flights

  1. james says:

    As a former L.A. resident, (Sherman Oaks,) I find this saga interesting – and the lengths at which its hyped on their site are hilarious:

    http://www.lawa.org/flylapalmdale/

    The bulk of articles I’ve read about Palmdale becoming a large international airport, or limited regional airport – all have focused on the effect of L.A. residents and the hyped convenience, or lack thereof or PMD.

    But what I haven’t read much about is VISITORS to L.A. Tourists, Conventioners, and weekend visitors like myself are never going to choose Palmdale over LAX or BUR.

    Picture being new to L.A. like I was at one time: You approach LAX, look down on the magnificent flyovers of the 105/100 freeways. After sweeping views of the mountains you see downtown and the Hollywood sign looking smudgy in the haze. Crummy as LAX is, when you arrive LAX you’re IN L.A. – and for a first time domestic or int’l visitor that’s an important factor to your trip. You’re a 10 minute ride from the westside beaches, and close to Venice and Santa Monica. You can be doing the Hollywood tourist thing within an hour after exiting the airport.

    There’s no magic to Palmdale. I wouldn’t consider myself a good host if my friends were landing in the desert amid trailer parks and trucks up on blocks. Speaking of magic I’m sure the thousands of visitors traveling to Disney and other OC locales would NEVER consider Palmdale as an option. While SNA is ideal, LAX isn’t THAT far and offers a multitude of shuttles.

    If I lived in the valley and found a cheap PMD fare I may consider it for MYSELF, and the cheap/free? parking is a plus. But to a southland first timer listing PMD as an LA alternative is an insult and borderling lying.

  2. Sue says:

    We live in Santa Clarita and at this point don’t even consider Palmdale Airport for anything. Neither do our relatives who LIVE in Palmdale. They prefer Burbank. We use LAX mainly because we can get the flights & connections from there easier and cheaper at this point. I will cherish the day I can book a flight from Burbank to Akron/Canton without 4 stops and a hefty pricetag.

    I agree with James–I would never consider having visitors arrive in Palmdale. Um, yuck.

  3. CF says:

    There are plenty of airports for major international destinations that aren’t exactly close to the city. I don’t know that it’s a big issue EXCEPT when there’s zero transportation to the city itself. Yes, the California High Speed Rail Authority has plans to run the high speed train right near PMD when it happens, theoretically around 2020. That would result in a 30 minute train trip to downtown LA, and then maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. But for now, it’s just too far for people in LA to ever consider.

    I did have a friend who flew into Ontario one time and said it felt like he was flying into Mexico. Hot, smoggy, and very industrial. That’s not exactly the best impression either, but there are plenty of people and a great deal of business out that way to make that airport viable.

  4. Oliver says:

    > If you want to go to the Bay Area, you can
    > fly Southwest or United from Burbank for
    > less money and on more frequent flights
    > than out of Palmdale.

    Just a quick example: Oct 3-6 RT PMD-SFO or vice versa is $222.50 and BUR-SFO or vice versa is $227 on united.com

    My one and only experience with PMD so far was in April. I wanted to go down to the Ontario area for a quick weekend family visit. More than three weeks prior to departure, UA wanted $400+ for SFO-ONT, SFO-SNA, and SFO-BUR. SFO-LAX was around $120 and SFO-PMD was $128. Given the traffic situation and the fact the PMD flight schedule actually worked very well for me (lucky coincidence, admittedly), I picked PMD and it worked out fine.

    I for one am glad they are adding additional flights. My rare family visits aren’t going to make the airport successful, but it sure is a decent alternative for my needs :)

  5. James says:

    Cranky:

    If this plan seems dubious, do you have any thoughts on the recent direct UA flight from San Fran to Victoria, BC? SkyWest appears to focus on the tourism sector and less the other segments (ie., business).

    See news release:

    http://www.canada.com/victoriatimescolonist/news/business/story.html?id=8146473c-f39e-4201-a137-4d223195d45b

    Some posts have discussed the high use of private aircraft out of Victoria, likely small prop planes servicing SEATAC and Vancouver. So why not go into that market with 30 seaters and clean up after the Beavers (the float plane – not their national symbol of industry):

    http://www.vibrantvictoria.ca/forum/showthread.php?p=67814

    Thanks – always enjoy reading the site,
    James

  6. Oliver says:

    > I’m heading out of town this afternoon and won’t
    > have email access again until Sunday

    Good timing with the CO/UA announcement :)

  7. eponymous coward says:

    I remember Helijet’s Lear jet service to Victoria from Boeing Field. It was wonderful- BFI was a piece of cake for security, faster than Kenmore Air, LOTS faster than the Clipper.

    It also folded, hard- BEFORE $130/bbl oil.

    For reference on how US-Canada operations are going, Alaska just shut down their SFO-YVR service (which actually was YVR-SFO-PSP).

    Oh, and…

    http://www.united.ca/core/english/AU/companyinfo/pressroom/releases/2008/february/ca_0205.html

    CR7, huh? Interesting. Horizon’s actually shutting down their CR7 jets as fast as humanly possible for Q400 turboprops to save on fuel. I wonder how long United’s going to last doing that, though apparently their RJ’s have 3 class service…

    http://www.unitedexplus.com/

  8. CF says:

    Oliver – Ok, let me break that out better. Fly United for more frequent flights to SFO (7 vs 4 each way) and fly Southwest for cheaper and more frequent to OAK. Southwest has $149 roundtrip to OAK with 15 flights a day each way.

    James – I really don’t know much about the Victoria market, but I don’t believe I recall hearing about any subsidies in there. So there must be something interesting. I don’t think the 30 seaters could make it that far from SFO though. To be clear, I don’t fault UA for flying to PMD. If someone wants to give me $4.6m, I’d probably do it as well . . . until the money ran out.

    Oliver (part deux) – Yeah, ugh. I’ll do my best to look at it when I get back on Sunday, but I can’t guarantee I’ll have something ready for publishing by Monday.

  9. CS says:

    My dad lived in Santa Clarita when I was growing up (back before it was Santa Clarita, even). LAWA is out of their fricking minds if they think people want to fly out of Palmdale. As you point out, Burbank is half the distance, and has the added advantage of not being in Palmdale. Not to mention lots of flights on larger planes to a variety of destinations people want to fly to, without connections. Not that SF isn’t a great place to go, but SFO isn’t my top choice to connect through. In addition to the weather issues (wind also reduces available runways) the food is heinously overpriced (although the recent rennovations have made it less terrible).

  10. Dan Webb says:

    I can understand giving out subsidies to encourage service, but this seems to be getting insane, especially because federal tax money is being used on this.

  11. Oliver says:

    > and fly Southwest for cheaper and more frequent to OAK.

    I live 5 miles from SFO (= one stop on the SamTrans express bus). There’s a long bridge between me and OAK, with lots of potential for nasty traffic. This pretty much limits my “LUV” for Southwest at the moment. I do hope they increase their SFO presence and offer flights to ONT, so UA gets some competition on that route.

  12. Joe Jones says:

    “There are plenty of airports for major international destinations that aren’t exactly close to the city.”

    All the major examples I can think of are products of government regulation forcing people to hike out of town. The two biggest examples (in my opinion), LGW and NRT, are slowly being marginalized because nobody wants to hike out that far to catch their flight. Witness all the network carriers migrating over to LHR and the re-internationalization of HND, SHA, GMP, etc.

    The only “far-out airport” which doesn’t totally suck (in my experience) is KIX. I find it (a) nicer than ITM, as it was designed by world-class architects, and (b) more convenient than ITM, as they designed it to smoothly interface with the railway network in Osaka. It’s sort of like comparing LGA and JFK: one is technically much closer, but feels farther if you’re trying to use public transit.

    Anyway, PMD could be a successful mega-airport if they made it intermodal (copy the Shanghai maglev?), built a really kickin’ terminal with HKG-style lounge facilities, and handed out real incentives for network carriers (perhaps on an alliance-by-alliance basis) to move all their operations there instead of LAX. This would take a metric buttload of investment, though, and it would naturally run the risk of being the next Mirabel.

    And I guess it begs the question: what’s wrong with LAX in the first place? (By this, I mean: What’s wrong that some terminal renovation and attitude adjustments couldn’t fix?)

  13. james says:

    If this high speed PMD – downtown L.A. rail ever comes to fruition it could also extend east from PMD to Victorville where it would connect with the Anaheim/Vegas Maglev Train. (Also not built.)

    Should PMD ever become a mega-airport it could then channel in residents from the Inland Empire and Apple Valley via that route.

  14. Robert says:

    Palmdale Regional Airport’s (PMD) current role is to support its market catchment area of the Antelope Valley, Santa Clarita Valley, Victor Valley and the north San Fernando Valley. Be realistic- anyone who is going to Disneyland is not going to use Palmdale.

    The switch to turboprops and increase in frequency will help in attracting more passengers. Passengers want convenience. The additional flights will help with inbound connections to PMD which have required long layovers in San Francisco.

    The United Airlines flights are now on the GSA schedule which means more government workers can go on the PMD-SFO flights. Keep in mind that there are several government installations in the Antelope Valley that have a frequent need for air service- Edwards Air Force Base (second largest in the USA), NASA Dryden Research Center (now at PMD Airport/Air Force Plant 42), Air Force Plant 42, FAA Los Angeles Center at PMD, China Lake Naval Weapons Center, etc. There are also large companies with major employment centers in the area including Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, US Borax, US Pole, Delta Scientific, Rite Aid, Michael’s, Sensor Systems, Huyndai Motors, Honda and the list goes on.

    United and Los Angeles World Airports could do a better job in promoting the air service. They certainly have the money to do it.

    Please visit Palmdale- it is not a bunch of trailers on blocks. The Antelope Valley has become a vibrant community with modern housing, extensive recreational opportunities and many shopping options including a Trader Joe’s. The U.S. Soccer Center is located in Lancaster. Mojave has the nation’s only non-NASA operated spaceport. Drive up the hill. You might be impressed with what you see!

  15. james says:

    Hi Robert. I think PMD COULD serve a good purpose for the area residents. If there was enough local demand it would be nice to have regular service to regional points like SFO, PHX, SLC, and a few daily flights down to LAX for connections.

    But the idea that Palmdale will be a major alternative to LAX is laughable.

    I feel the growth and expansion should be EQUAL to and END with the demand that’s IN THE AREA. Not try and force the enormous population north of the 10 freeway to funnel up the 14 to fly PMD. Isn’t that a fairly logical statement?

    p.s. while I lack the gusto for the high desert that Huell Howser might have, I do have a print of David Hockney’s “Pearblossom Highway” in my dining room – so I get a little taste of the valley every day :)

  16. Robert says:

    Palmdale Regional Airport will never replace LAX unless LAX is closed and all operations are moved to Palmdale.

    There is enough local demand for air service at Palmdale Airport. There have been several marketing studies conducted on the Palmdale Airport market. San Francisco, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Sacramento, Salt Lake City and Dallas all scored highly. It was the 2001 TriStar Marketing report on Palmdale Airport that served as the basis as my business plan for Air Palmdale.

    The current problem with Palmdale is not to force people up the 14 Freeway, but to keep the passengers in the Palmdale Airport area to use PMD for their next flight. Losing passengers from the home airport is known as “leakage.” San Francisco offers many excellent national and international connecting flights. The fares out of Palmdale have been as competitive or more competitive than LAX or Burbank. United Airlines is being subsidized by a U.S. Department of Transportation grant and the “Wheels Up Palmdale” coalition of Los Angeles World Airports, the County of Los Angeles, the City of Palmdale and a number of commerce and trade groups in the Antelope Valley.

    There needs to be a heavier saturation of advertising for United’s Palmdale service.

  17. CF says:

    Robert – So you think that it’s simply a matter of increasing advertising in the Palmdale area to make this work? If that’s the case, then they should eliminate United’s subsidy and pour that money into advertising instead. I can’t imagine that would make this successful, however. While there are many connections in SFO, it’s a difficult airport to connect in due to delays. It’s also a backhaul for anyone flying domestically. I just can’t see it.

  18. bobby says:

    The main reason why people dont utilize smaller regional airports is because they dont factor in the “aggrevation and time wasted” costs associated to LAX or other major airports. For example I flew AirCanada out of LAX recently to Calgary (a flight I made out of PMD six months earlier) I had to leave my house almost four hours before flight time (driving to lax, 1:30 hours, parking in lot B and shuttle bus to terminal :30 minutes, getting thru check in and security 1:35 leaving me :25 mins to board) coming back to LAX was just as bad, I had to wait nearly 25 minutes for my bags, since I arrived at terminal 2 and had to ride the shuttle bus back to lot B and go thru the entire airport before reaching my car it was an hour and 15 minutes, oh and it cost me $49.00 for parking.

    When I flew out of PMD it took me 30 minutes to drive, parked in front of terminal walked two minutes to the terminal three minutes to check in and get thru security and when I returned it took me 10 minutes to wait for my bag, two minutes to get to my car, drive out of the parking lot without paying a dime and get home in 30 minutes.

    The only reason I took the flight out of LAX was because it was booked for me by my company. I protested to them because I wanted to fly out of PMD but they said that they didnt want me to waste time with a layover in SFO and wanted me to fly non stop to be more productive.

    The PMD flight I took six months earlier had an hour and a half layover in SFO before continuing on to YYC.

    Where was the savings in productivity when you factored in the “aggravation and time wasted factor” I hope the PMD service stays. I fly constantly and have used PMD at least 20 times since the service started, even took it to London, what an easier way to fly international when you go into SFO on a connection than dealing with LAX and customs there. Dont look at price and closeness to your final destination as the sole factor, if you think LAX is close to disney just think of waiting that long for your bags and shuttle bus and getting aggravated when you could be taking a scenic and relaxing drive down the 14 or across the pearblossom to the cajon pass and enjoy the scenery in the same amount of time.

  19. For those of you above:

    NO..PMD will not replace LAX and it is not supposed to.

    YES..It can work

    Yes..This is a regional solution.

    NO James..We do not live all in trailers with blocks.

    YES James..In PMD we have built, designed and flown some of the most brillant military aircraft in history…Sherman Oaks..I think the movie “Valley Girl” says it all.

    YES James..With four high-tech companies, three AFB’s, AV’s growing community, Shoot James I’d be right proud to have anyone fly into our community. Why don’t you just moosey on down and see us some time!!

    So James we’re really not picking on ya but please watch how y’all talk bout us folks..

    YES..PMD Airport can work.

    Try reading the above comments from Bobby and it only gets better from there.

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