Will the Hub-and-Spoke System Disappear? (Ask Cranky)

It’s been awhile since I ran an Ask Cranky post, but that doesn’t mean the questions have stopped coming in. This question came in earlier this month, and I thought it was a good one. So let’s talk about it.

Hey there, Cranky! I’m really enjoying your blog. Obviously, you have a really deep knowledge of the airline industry. Do you foresee the hub-and-spoke system going away? It’s one of my least-favorite aspects of air travel.

Keep up the great work! Justin

Will the hub-and-spoke system go away? In short, no, I can’t imagine it will.Ask Cranky As Southwest continues to grow (much more slowly than in the past) and other low cost carriers follow similar point-to-point models, wouldn’t it make sense for the hub-and-spoke system to go away because of its inefficiencies involved?

It may seem that way if you’re in a bigger city, but what about those people who live in Springfield, Illinois or Waco, Texas or Bakersfield, California? See the point-to-point system make work wonders for those who live in bigger cities, but in smaller cities, the hub-and-spoke model is their best bet by far.

Let’s think about Springfield, Illinois. There probably isn’t enough demand to fill a single airplane to almost any city from Springfield at a given point in time. But, if you can send a bunch of passengers to Chicago and then let them fan out around the globe, all of a sudden you do have the ability to fill it up because you’re combining a bunch of passengers going to different places in a single plane.

This doesn’t mean the point-to-point model won’t grow, and maybe one day we’ll see someone try the ExpressJet model between smaller cities again, but I doubt we’ll see the day where Springfield, Illinois can hold its own on many routes on a convenient business-friendly schedule. (Sure, any town can support a couple flights a week to Vegas on Allegiant, but that’s a different story.)

Remember, a hub doesn’t exist solely as a hub. There are a few minor hubs that still exist that don’t have tremendous local traffic, but for the most part, those have disappeared (Pittsburgh, Columbus, etc). Now, most hubs exist in cities where there is a great deal of local demand. Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas, etc are all very big local areas that can support flights to many other destinations on a point-to-point basis. But when you throw in the connecting traffic from smaller cities, you enable the existence of even more flights.

Think about how many places you can get to from Springfield with a single stop. It’s pretty incredible. And you can nearly cover the entire globe with two stops. So the hub-and-spoke model isn’t going anywhere, because it still is the best way to serve many smaller cities around the world while at the same time providing better point-to-point service for those large hub cities.

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