Delta Keeps Shrinking Cincinnati but Not Memphis

On April 14, 2008, Delta and Northwest announced their merger with the promise that they would “maintain all hubs at Atlanta, Cincinnati, Detroit, Memphis, Minneapolis/St. Paul, New York-JFK, Salt Lake City, Amsterdam and Tokyo-Narita.” I didn’t buy it, and I responded that it had to involve “cutting capacity out of the system. Where are the most likely candidates? I’m looking at you, Memphis and Cincinnati.” Now, over a year later, I thought it was time to take a look.

It appears that my predictions were half right. Cincinnati is shrinking rapidly (including a recent cut of 24 daily flights), but Memphis is actually holding strong. Who would’ve guessed? Let’s look at some graphs.

Number of Cincinnati Flights

Here you can see Cincinnati’s rapid decline. I looked at the number of daily departures on a random Wednesday during November for 2007, 2008, and 2009. During that time, the number of Delta/Northwest departures from the airport have been cut in half from 416 to 208. Mainline flights have dropped from 62 to 28, and now you’ll see mostly little 50 seaters buzzing around. Can it be much longer before the cuts continue? I think not.

Then we have Memphis. Check this one out.

Number of Memphis Flights

Memphis has held strong. There are now only 203 flights compared to 221, but that’s a much smaller decrease than what Cincinnati has seen and it’s in line with the general capacity cuts we’ve seen around the system. It has lost a lot of mainline – 78 to 42 departures – but that is still a fairly large percentage of the total operation. Most importantly, Memphis has not seen a loss in the number of destinations served, so it’s really just a frequency reduction. Meanwhile, Cincinnati has seen the number of destinations served drop from 116 to 77. See for yourself.

Memphis and Cincinnati Number of Destinations

So we see a mixed bag here, that’s for sure. Delta appears to be finding some level of success in Memphis while Cincinnati suffers from death by a thousand cuts.

[Updated 7/7 @ 1118a: Transposed Memphis departure numbers were fixed]

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55 Comments on "Delta Keeps Shrinking Cincinnati but Not Memphis"

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SEAN
Guest

The answer maybe simpler than one might think. As far as hubs go CVG IS close to DTW which renders CVG unessessary as a hub. Also DTW has a large number of international flights.

Dan
Guest
I worked on a mathematical model for my Masters thesis that suggests Cincinnati in and of itself as a hub still has life left in it. One of the reasons Cincinnati is seeing current decline is that Delta doesn’t have enough of the right airframes for that market. What Delta is in desperate need of are more 90-100 seat regional jets. Mathematically, the 50-seaters need to be parked ASAP, and Delta simply doesn’t have the right equipment to replace that. On top of that, because of the characteristics of the surrounding region (ie IND, DAY, SDF, CMH) CVG is unlikely… Read more »
A
Guest

Hard to tell from your graphs but looks like Memphis has historically had more (although slim majority if any) mainline flights. Perhaps there is more local demand in Memphis which can keep those mainline flights in the black and keep flight reductions down. Perhaps the differences in the local economy of Memphis vs. Cincinnati is playing a role in this?

David SF eastbay
Member

With MSP, DTW, and CVG that is a lot of hubs in a very close area. MEM is out there by itself and along with ATL can do a lot of north/south connections in the eastern half of the U.S. It can also help with east/west connections along the southern part of the country.

Adam
Guest

I kind of wonder if the existence of the FedEx hub in Memphis helps Memphis keep going–two different airlines operating hubs at one field, at different times of day and night could make for much lower landing costs.

David
Guest

For senior management, cutting CVG makes things politically much easier should they choose to cut MEM in the next 18 months. Not only will many of the hopes, fears and expectations about keeping NW intact be forgotten, but management can also show that they are not just targetting the staff of the smaller airline – they can point to clear cuts that have taken place at CVG.

Nick Barnard
Member

I’d also put in here that Ohio has been hit quite hard by the recession,as has DTW, but CVG doesn’t have the International traffic to keep it strong as a hub.

Dan
Guest

@NB

Well, truth be told, DTW doesn’t have that much international traffic either — under the NW brand, it served CDG, AMS, FRA, and LGW on the European side, and NRT and KIX on the Asian side. What I haven’t had access to is international itinerary information, so I can’t tell you how much of the DTW feed is O&D and how much is connecting traffic. Even CVG serves CDG, LON, and FRA.

Thomas
Guest

MEM also benefits from three parallel runways (with a fourth perpendicular strip), relatively good weather year round, and, I believe, extremely low operating costs for the airlines.

People have been predicting the death of MEM as a hub for 20 years, from Republic to NW to DL, it just keeps chugging on.

Next time you’re through there, have some Interstate BBQ. You’ll start planning trips so you can have connections in MEM.

Nick Barnard
Member

I blame Cincinnati’s pull down in part to a confusion as to which state the airport is located in. Unknown to most people its actually in Kentucky. Every so often they have to wave a CRJ off from Lunken field. Its not pretty when it happens.

That being said I also have a bridge in Nebraska that is for sale.

Rochester Rich
Guest

Cranky, As long as you’re noting figures for Delta’s CVG and MEM hubs can you do the same for SLC, JFK, LAX, ATL, DTW, NRT, AMS, and any others I may have missed. Great posts from your honeymoon. I forwarded them to my brother who dreams of vacationing in the South Pacific in a villa over water.
Dan, I’d like to read your thesis as well. Could you send me a copy at RDimperio@alumni.williams.edu. Thanks.

Rochester Rich
Guest

In that case never mind. I was just curious and thought you might have easy access to them.

Dan
Guest
CF, CVG spills/leaks a @$@#-ton of traffic to the neighboring airports. I saw a study Sabre did a couple of years ago, but unfortunately, I wasn’t too impressed with it. Amongst the neighboring markets, the Cincinnati MSA is #1 in terms of population, yet was #3 in terms of single-segment enplanements. CMH and IND (both WN cities) kick CVG’s butt. My point with all of this is that I think any airline that serves a surrounding airport would simply cannibalize its traffic if it starts service at CVG. And, other than WN, who else is even much of a threat?… Read more »
Dan
Guest
CF, The whole CVG thing is really weird. The airport itself is located aways away from downtown Cincinnati. In fact, when I worked in the northern suburbs, CVG and DAY were about equidistant from my office. Also, while working on my thesis, I spent a lot of time talking to some folks from the CVG airport authority — and they told me try as they might, LCC’s weren’t interested in serving CVG. Part of it is a lack of understanding of the local/regional dynamics. Truth be told, I was surprised at how much lobbying specific airports do for service. I… Read more »
Nick Barnard
Member

One other curiosity I’ve learned of when I lived near CVG is that people will actually drive to DAY, then catch a flight to CVG then connect their to their final destination, because it is much cheaper. The other thing I’ve noticed is for whatever reason this usually results in a return via ATL.

I’m extremely surprised that Delta doesn’t price their DAY fares right where the CVG ones are at.

Dan
Guest

@NB:

Airlines lose some pricing power when they offer connecting flights instead of a non-stop. For the most part, a connection is a connection, and if DL jacks DAY fares out of the water, why not connect on CO through CLE instead?

Trent880
Guest

I still don’t think MEM is in it for the longhaul as a hub; it’s too close to ATL and any incremental addition is going to make more sense than MEM. But while we’re speaking of superfluous hubs and hubs focused on connecting traffic, I’ll submit the white elephant as another DL hub whose writing is on the wall: NRT.

Dan
Guest

CF, I know that, but…

DTW: Fares are weak, the economy is in the toilet, and there is competition from NK and WN.

CVG: Fares are strong, Cincinnati is home to a lot of companies that are doing well, and there is no LCC competition at the big airport. I think the combination of both is enough to take a second look at exactly how the two airports should be used in the future.

Trent880
Guest

WN and NK are really not major players at DTW. Sure they may influence pricing but they aren’t growing by any means–WN doesn’t even serve LAS or MCO from DTW.

Nick Barnard
Member

Dan and Cranky – Re: Keeping DAY competitive. I think its kinda sad that they even run a Dayton to Cincinnati flight. I can see where it could be of some use, but I’d really be interested to know how much leakage from the CVG area they’re getting of people doing fare evasion. It doesn’t do Delta much good to sell a Cincinnatian a lower priced ticket, then have to fly them another segment to give them that lower price…

Trent880
Guest

I think LCCs stay away from CVG because it’s tiny–it’s about half the size of IND or CLE in terms of passenger demand. It has a decent premium market, but it’s still small. WN has remained pretty stagnant in neighboring cities like DTW, CMH, CLE, IND, and PIT that are all much bigger than CVG.

Dan
Guest
@Trent, Analyzing the CVG market is tough… for instance… two of the five cities you list are within driving distance of Cincinnati. You list them as being “bigger” than CVG, yet by looking at population count, the Cincinnati MSA is larger than that of the Columbus MSA and Indy MSA. (MSA = metropolitan statistical area). It’s common knowledge that there is leakage from the CVG market to IND and CMH as well as DAY. So what is the “true” passenger demand from CVG? Hard to say. @NB, FWIW, when I worked for United Express, we operated an IAD-BWI flight. Because… Read more »
Trent880
Guest

@ Dan I don’t disagree, but what it all adds up to is that CVG is supporting a hub that is massively oversized for the market it serves. Sure CVG might *really* be bigger or smaller than its passenger demand lets on given leakage etc, but it’s not double. The hub should look like CO at CLE or US at PIT at best.

DougOH
Guest
Methinks its only a matter of time before Southwest barges (but not on the Ohio river) its way into CVG. I used to think that WN would eventually pick at the edges by going to DAY but recent moves into major markets (LGA, BOS, PHL) shows that WN is no longer picking secondary markets to get PAX to major cities. WN going to BWI, MDW, DEN, LAS, STL, PHL, and the usual suspect Florida cities seems much more doable at CVG than with DAY. Airtran is supposedly more lower-cost than WN and already is running 3 jets daily to BWI… Read more »
john
Guest

Wondering if Dan could forward study. I’d like to read it also.

Paul Jordan
Guest

Dan-

I grew up in Cincinnati and would love to see the paper. If so can you please send to paajorda1@yahoo.com

Paul

Ben Luchow
Guest

@ A:
Historically, no. Recently, yes. Back in 2005, cvg was HUGE(bigger than dtw is now for DL), with 620 flights and over 200 mainline a day.

Ben Luchow
Guest

@ Nicholas Barnard:
Cincinnati has over 400000 more people in its metro than memphis, not to mention the base of 7 fortune 500 companies including P&G, chiquita, macys, fifth third, scripps, kroger, ge aviation, and so on. Cincinnati is much stronger than Memphis economically, as it has these many companies and has weathered the recession quite well.

David
Guest

Perhaps the next time “you” have multi-stops to your destination, you might have re-thought your previous decisions to utilize the “cheaper” fares from
various satellite city airports. Cincinnati has never really appreciated what was once here and will never experience the convenience again. As far as I’m concerned it gives the area what it rightly deserves. I wonder what John Matarese will do now for air fare tirades?

elvis
Guest

Memphis has Elvis. That’s tourism, folks. Plus you have the Casino trade in Mississippi 1/2 hr from MEM. (not to mention the increasing popularity of the MS blues trail..)

That’s what MEM has going for it in a big-time way: tourism.

DougOH
Guest

Does anybody wonder where Delta is going to get the RJ’s for the beefed up service at LGA next year? With the 125 slots coming from USAirways Delta has promised to replace turbo-prop flights with larger jets and bring service to new destinations as well. Is this a prelude to dismantling the CVG hub ala AA at St. Louis?

TW
Guest

1. Cincinnati and Memphis are both going to stay as small hubs roughly the same size.

2. Delta is not going to close a DL hub and displace its own people, it’s going to close the NW hub.

3. Don’t give me this Ohio rust belt bull. Cincinnati has a WAY better economy then Memphis

Steve ramirez
Guest

I think that delta is fine just as it is!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

john d
Guest

Haha, yeah Elvis is driving Memphis. Memphis is nothing compared to the Cincy metro market business or tourism.

BNA Flyer
Guest
CF- I don’t believe MEM will ever shut down and CVG will for several reasons: *The airport had profitability problems under Republic and was fixed by NW long ago with former NW people and Pinnacle executives saying it is in fact now profitable and has been for a while.(See commercial appeal online archives for this) *Because NW people are now at the helm of Delta outnumbering former DL people loyalty will be the former NW hub that has already been fixed and right sized. *ATL and MEM have coexisted under Delta, Southern, & Republic before. Delta only consolidated because it… Read more »
DougOH
Guest
Delta execs surely recognize that if they close the CVG hub for good and only operate minimal flights, then there would be a rush of new carriers taking over to fill the gaps. JetBlue, Southwest, and Airtran can also fly Cincy’s and other local passengers to all of Delta’s hub cities either nonstop or with connecting flights and apparently do it elsewhere with profitability. Guess my point is how can Delta shrink its way to profitability in the U.S. and let other carriers continue growing like wildfire? Ok so DL is focusing on international flying (like everybody else) but if… Read more »
DougOH
Guest
If Southwest were to move into CVG, would it become more like a Pittsburgh presence with just a handful of flights to key cities – or could Southwest create a mini-hub ala St. Louis? With 85 mainline flights daily at STL, such a presence at CVG could in some ways be better than the couple dozen mainline flights Delta has left, and DL could always keep mainline flights to MSP, ATL, SLC, and CDG like they do in other cities. Other LCC’s could fill some voids with mainline flights to other places like DEN, BOS, etc. All that would really… Read more »
DougOH
Guest

As large the catchment area is between Columbus, Indianapolis, Louisville, and Dayton is – one airline or another will see a void in heavy business markets such as LA, Seattle, Hartford, Boston, New York, etc and not need connecting traffic. Southwest running 12 flights from CVG to their closest hubs of MDW, STL, BNA isn’t gonna cut it. IND has some direct flights to the large business markets going west but is a 2-3 hour drive from Ohio/KY.

DougOH
Guest
For those who are rooting for Delta to maintain a hub in Cincinnati, perhaps you should be glad DL is dropping the 22 gates they do not need and helping the airport consolidate carriers into one terminal and reduce costs. I believe Delta will help the airport pick and choose which of any low-cost carriers they can live with, much like they are doing now with the proposed slot-swap at LGA and keeping Southwest out. In the meantime, their projected savings of $20 million per year, by consolidating and reducing employment, while maintaining the same number of flights (28 gates… Read more »
Nick Barnard
Member

Delta would love to pick and choose the LCC’s but they can’t because its illegal. The airport has to let anyone in for the most part.

I doubt London is coming back, especially given that they can get people from anywhere to there in one stop with no problem

DougOH
Guest
Yes, I agree DL is potentially opening themselves up to competition, by giving up 22 gates. Each of the current tenants in terminal A – CO, US, AA, and UA really only need perhaps 2 gates each. A LLC could feasibly run a nice hub with 12 or 14 remaining gates – but I doubt Airtran can stomach competing with DL in yet another hub. Jetblue might be interested in using CVG to connect the dots better between their east and west coast cities, considering that JFK does not make an ideal connecting hub being so far northeast, and with… Read more »
DougOH
Guest

If anybody can verify for sure, looks like CVG will be back up to 35 mainline departures daily this summer from the 28 listed at the beginning of this thread. I also count another 24 daily flights on 76-seat jets with first class, which I believe did not exist in 2007. No, this isn’t the same as 64 mainline departures from 2007, but still pretty good service and not a wholesale abandonment of CVG.

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