Delta, US Airways, Continental, and AirTran Swap DC and NY Slots

Isn’t August supposed to be a pretty light month for airline news? This week has been absolutely packed with headlines, and I’m getting tired. Today I’m rolling a couple stories together that involve slot swaps. One (between US Airways and Delta) is huge while the other (between Continental and AirTran) is more of a minor thing. But one thing is clear – things are really moving these days.

The big news is the Delta/US Airways slot swap. Remember the good old days when US Airways was the “big bad predator” and Delta employees wanted to “Keep Delta My Delta”? Apparently those wounds have healed and now they’re playing nice with each other. The basic plan is this – Delta gives its Washington/National (DCA) operation to US Airways and US Airways gives its New York/LaGuardia (LGA) operation to Delta. Delta also had to throw in route authorities for Tokyo and Sao Paulo and they wanted a Pete Rose rookie card to even things out.

Delta US Airways Bargain

Why are they doing this? Well, Delta wants to “win” New York (if there is such a thing). US Airways, meanwhile, thinks the DCA slots can make them a lot more money. Ok, fine. It’s probably a smart move for both considering their strategies. I talk about that more over on BNET today.

US Airways will give up 125 slot pairs (one pair = one takeoff and one landing) at LaGuardia along with its terminal. Those slots are currently used for US Airways Express flights that buzz around the Northeast, primarily in turboprops. Here is what stays and what goes:

US Airways Changes at LaGuardia

Everything else will go to Delta, and it remains to be seen how exactly they’ll use them. They do say, however, that they’ll add or preserve service to 30 smaller cities, including a dozen cities not currently served by US Airways from LaGuardia. They also say they’ll upgrade the props to jets and end up squeezing more than 2 million additional people a year through the airport without increasing flights. Hmm.

So Delta will set up what they’re calling a domestic hub at LGA with an international one at JFK. That’s, uh, not ideal, especially when compared to Continental’s single facility at Newark. But JFK will apparently continue as is for now and LGA will just see more flying to smaller cities. Delta really thinks they can make a go of it.

In terms of facilities, US Airways Shuttle will use the Marine Air Terminal (where Delta currently flies its Shuttle) and the other flights will go into Terminal D gates 7, 8, and 9. Delta will take over US Airways’ current terminal and pour some money into it to fix it up. (Hey, maybe you guys should pour money into that dump over at JFK instead.)

Down at DCA, it’s a different story. US Airways will pick up 42 slot pairs to add to the 175ish that they currently have. Here’s what they’ll add:

US Airways New Cities from Washington/National

They will operate these with Embraer 190s or A319s, so it’s going to involve bigger aircraft than what Delta is using today. As far as facilities go, they need to ask the airport for facilities – Delta doesn’t own anything to give to US airways there, but this shouldn’t be a problem. US Airways is currently profitable at National and they expect this move to add to the bottom line to the tune of $75 million.

Delta will keep flying to its hubs and “select small communities.” Man, Delta is really being cryptic here, and it’s a pretty stark contrast to US Airways. I wish Delta was nearly as open as US Airways has been, but until then we’ll have to just keep guessing at exactly what they’re going to do.

But this slot swap wasn’t quite even, so US Airways has also received a route authority to fly to Sao Paulo. (They’ll go from Charlotte.) They also get slots to fly into Tokyo/Narita which they’ll run from Phoenix . . . eventually. The plan for Tokyo is to start in 2012. Until then, the slot will be subleased back to Delta. They can really start whenever they want, but they figured that it will be 2012 before air travel to Asia has recovered.

And that’s it. No cash changed hands or anything else. It’s just a swap that works for both airlines. This is subject to government approval, and it likely won’t happen until 2010, so transition plans aren’t known just yet.

We also have to talk about Continental and AirTran. AirTran will be pulling out of Newark completely. Its 10 slots will go to Continental. In exchange, AirTran will get what looks to be 6 slots at LaGuardia (for flights to Indy and Orlando) as well as six slots at National (to be used for Orlando and Atlanta). This one makes perfect sense as they play to their strengths. Continental fortifies Newark while AirTran builds in LGA and DCA. AirTran’s service in Newark ends on 10/25 and picks up in DCA/LGA on 11/4.

What a week – my head is spinning.

[Original photos: / CC BY 2.0 and / CC BY-SA 2.0]

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