Winning and Losing Airports in the Washington/National Slot Shuffle

Washington’s National Airport is, to put it mildly, a highly desirable place to fly. It is mere minutes from downtown Washington and is the preferred airport for many a businessperson and politician. It is also slot-restricted, so rarely do airlines have the opportunity to improve their standing. Recently, however, there was a big change. Now we know which destinations will be happy and which will be crying.

The reason for the big shift was the American/US Airways merger. US Airways already had the most slots at the airport, and the US Department of Justice (DOJ) decided that it didn’t want to allow US Airways to combine with American and become even stronger there. To right this “wrong,” DOJ forced the airlines to sell off 52 slot pairs (one pair = one departure and one arrival per day) to new entrants. JetBlue already leased 8 of those and would get them permanently, so the net result was that 44 slot pairs would change hands.

For American and US Airways, that meant cutting flights in order to fit under the new cap. The new airline announced it would cut 17 cities from its nonstop network at National (though one, San Diego, was cut in favor of adding a second LAX flight, so I don’t count that one). On the flip side, Southwest won 27 slots, JetBlue picked up 12 (in addition to the 8 it already leased), and Virgin America scooped up 4. The last one is a Sunday-only slot pair that Southwest didn’t want and is still unassigned, I believe.

I had assumed that a lot of places would be unhappy with all this. After all, the new American would end up cutting flights to smaller cities while the new low cost carriers would just add to big cities that already had a ton of service. Now that Southwest has unveiled its plans and JetBlue has told us half its story, I have to say it’s not nearly as bad as I thought. Here are the winners and losers.

Lose Nonstop DCA

Let’s start with those airports that are going to be downright pissed. All of the above airports will lose their only nonstop flight to Washington/National. Most of these saw only one daily flight (except Saturday), though Islip, Savannah, and Wilmington each had two. Little Rock can take some solace in knowing that American is starting a nonstop flight to New York/LaGuardia so even though one door is closing, a new one is opening up. The rest of these are just small cities, often with big military ties that helped keep those airplanes profitable. There was little chance that anyone else would step into these markets.

Lose Competitor DCA

Each of these four markets will lose American/US Airways nonstop service to National entirely, but they still have nonstop flights on at least one other airline (in parentheses). Will Detroit and Minneapolis really be devastated? Probably not. Omaha will now have only a single flight on Delta, but it’s also not a huge loss there. But Montreal had 2 daily flights on US Airways and will now have only two remaining on Air Canada. The Air Canada schedule won’t permit day trips to DC anymore, so that’s a loss. None of the new entrants are putting airplanes here, so this is a net negative for all, even if it’s not a huge one.

Lose One Gain One DCA

One little market won the lottery, and that’s Nassau in the Bahamas. Nassau is losing its US Airways flight, but JetBlue announced it will add a flight of its own in the market with its new slot windfall. JetBlue will add more seats than US Airways pulls out and it will likely do so at a lower fare. The only people sad about this are US Airways frequent fliers and those who like to fly First Class. Overall, I’d say this is a slight positive at worst for Nassau but probably better than that.

More Frequency DCA

There are a couple of markets that won’t see the players change at all but they will get more flights from Southwest. Both Houston and St Louis already have 2 daily flights on Southwest and they’ll get more. We don’t know the numbers yet, but that will be announced in May. Either way, it’s still an improvement since they lose nothing from any other airline as of now.

New Competitor DCA

The biggest grouping on the positive side are those cities that will now gain a new nonstop competitor. All of these cities have American/US Airways nonstop service today and will now get some good competition. Akron/Canton will take its 1 US Airways flight today and add Southwest service. (We don’t know how many flights until May.) The same goes for Indianapolis where US Airways has a much larger presence with 6 a day. Nashville may have lost US Airways and American competing head-to-head but now Southwest will bring 3 daily into the market to compete with the 6 at the new American. New Orleans will get 2 from Southwest and Charleston will get 2 from JetBlue to go up against American’s 5 in each. Hartford will also get 2 from JetBlue to compete against American’s 6. Tampa is the big winner. It goes from 1 to 2 daily on JetBlue and it will also get 2 new nonstops from Southwest. American keeps 5. These guys should all be happy.

First Nonstop DCA

The last bracket has the two airports that have no nonstop service today. I say it’s their first nonstop but that’s not really true. Chicago/Midway had ATA service until that airline shut down, so this is just a long overdue return. It’s in a BIG way with 9 daily flights. And Dallas/Love Field, well, it has been prohibited to have nonstop service in this market since the Wright Amendment went into effect. That changes in October, so it’s no surprise here.

Love may end up getting even luckier if Virgin America wins its battle for gates at the airport. If it wins, then Virgin will start four daily flights to National from Love. If it fails, then Virgin will have to look elsewhere to determine how to use its 4 slots. And these slots can’t go to hubs in San Francisco and LA because of the perimeter rule.

JetBlue still has 6 slots that it hasn’t allocated yet, but I bet those go to existing Florida markets. The smart plan is to announce the cities that get new nonstop service first – makes a bigger splash. But maybe I’ll be surprised here as well. So far, I’ll certainly admit that more mid-size cities are getting service than I expected. But the small cities are once again left out in the cold.

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43 Comments on "Winning and Losing Airports in the Washington/National Slot Shuffle"

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121 Pilot
Guest

Don’t forget those cities like LGB and OAK that are losing service from IAD so JetBlue can support their new slots. AUS-SFO is also on that list I think.

Shane
Member

Quite a move to Midway, albeit predictable. 9 dailies against the 12 United & 7 American. Obviously going for the business traveler, and to an extent competing with itself at Dulles. Will be interesting to see how these connect into the international flights. Even with Baltimore up the road, many would rather fly and connect from DCA instead.

TomAustinTX
Guest

Y’all forgot Austin :(
Southwest now flies 1 daily non-stop to DCA.
2 Daily non-stops to BWI and 1 daily non-stop to OAK.
JetBlue, Virgin America, and United, fly daily non-stops to SFO.

Bill from DC
Guest

I think it’s because AUS didn’t get any new service as a result of AA slot divestiture at DCA. He’s only looking at what changed (what service is stopping and what service is starting) as a result of this.

TomAustinTX
Guest

That is how Austin got the new service. When Southwest got more slots at DCA they chose Austin as one of the new services to DCA. Before that Southwest flew entirely to BWI. Southwest even ran a contest to see which city wanted the new routes to DCA. Maybe I’m missing something…

Eric A.
Member
The VX slot award is a head-scratcher to me. The entire proposal is contingent on getting gates at DAL. IMHO they are likely to get them, but it is not a done deal. I thought perhaps opening a BNA operation would be a good Plan B because they could tap entertainment traffic to LAX and tech to SFO. Apparently WN thought the same thing and now the market will be saturated with their new additions. Plan C would be ORD but c’mon ….there is no way to compete 28 dailies on incumbents (large FF base) with their measly four. Plus… Read more »
Bill from DC
Guest

I agree completely. Plus they can’t just start flying to LAX or SFO, they would have to get perimeter exemptions, eight of which were doled out a few years ago (including to VX) making it very unlikely more would be granted any time soon.

Cazh Flyer
Guest
I think the additional losers will be those folks around DAL who liked the frequent flights to intra-Texas and the Wright Amenemdment region flights. I don’t see how WN can maintain frequencies to places like LUB, MAF, ABQ, etc. WN has been chomping at the bit to ditch Wright and start gobbling up Dallas business travel with Love Field being so much closer to downtown Dallas and the IH-35E corridor to the northern metroplex ‘burbs. If I was a betting man, I’d bet WN will start to stretch its legs out of DAL in the post-Wright era and start going… Read more »
David SF eastbay
Member

Just like in life there are winners and losers. The cities that lost service could mean they didn’t need it in the first place.

DesertGhost
Guest

A couple of quick comments:

It may be nothing more than coincidence (then, again, it may not) that the net number of slot pairs American is divesting at Washington National (44) is very close to the number (42) US Airways received from Delta in their “slot swap.”

It also seems American is happy with the $381 million it’s receiving from the sales at DCA. American is also getting 24 slots (12 pairs, I believe) at JFK from jetBlue.

The DOJ has estimated the total value of the slot transactions at around $425 million. Not a bad haul.

Sanjeev M
Guest
DTW/MSP – DCA serve to connect DCA with the wider midwest/west DL network. Of course there is plenty of local demand that DL now has the nonstop monopoly on. But thinking of things like DSM-DTW-DCA there’s still plenty of competition over other hubs. Interesting that other than Islip, all the markets losing all service are in the South. Maybe US feels that funneling them through CLT is good enough? I would think US would like to maintain its loyalty in North Carolina, but maybe there just isn’t traffic. Also LIT shouldn’t be complaining as they still have WN to BWI.… Read more »
jboekhoud
Member

It seems to me that a lot of the losses affect business routes while many of the gains are to leisure destinations. That seems counterproductive, since business travellers need the proximity to the city more. Families heading to Disney for the week should be the ones driving out to IAD and BWI.

Frankly, I’m also surprised no Canadian airlines got extra slots at DCA, particularly with the cuts to Montreal. You’d think YYZ/YUL/YOW would be routes with heavy business and government travel.

sjc user
Guest

One thing I don’t like about these slot reallocations is that some small cities lose service, while other larger cities get way too much service. Is there enough traffic for 26 plane loads of people to from Chicago to DCA? It seems like overkill to me.

Sanjeev M
Guest
There may not be enough traffic for 26 planeloads CHI-DCA, but UA/AA/WN operate their largest or second largest hub in Chicago and funnel more people to DCA than could ever imaginably be served nonstop to any Washington area airport. Hubs exist for a reason, to sustain flights that without feed would never exist or exist with dramatically less frequency. So while in the route view it may seem that small cities are suffering, the overall network picture means these cities are well served. Take Jacksonville, NC from above. OAJ-DCA 1x daily is being cut, but OAJ-CLT is 8 daily on… Read more »
Bill from DC
Guest
Don’t forget, we’ve been “missing” 5 daily one class 757s to MDW since ATA disappeared, probably about 1,000 seats given the way ATA packed em stacked em and racked em in those old 75s. In my experience, it didn’t seem like AA or UA added any service after that and I have actually noticed smaller aircraft on the ORD runs from those two more recently than even just a few years ago. Also, as others have noted, MDW is a hub for WN (whether they want to admit it or not) so pxs will be connecting over MDW on those… Read more »
Crabby in San Diego
Guest

Not counting San Diego as losing, because an additional flight is being added to LA, is comparable to equating landing in DCA to landing in Richmond, Virginia. It is over two hours away, without traffic, and when does LA ever not have traffic? US Airways direct flight between SAN and DCA was always full.

Werner
Guest

Where is August, Georgia? Is service lacking for the whole month?

Bill from DC
Guest

DCA – MDW RETURNS! HALLELUJAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

But there’s no reason it should have taken WN this long!

How many years has it been since WN rigged the ATA bankruptcy proceedings to basically fold them and take all their spots at MDW? Regardless, that is the last time that I could fly DCA to MDW. Oh happy day!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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[…] This is a decent summary of the airports that will be affected by the slot changes at DCA: http://crankyflier.com/2014/03/25/wi…-slot-shuffle/ […]

Bill from DC
Guest
Overall, I think this worked out great for us DC folks. A few random thoughts from a frequent user of DCA… – Most, if not all, of the cities losing nonstop service were added as a result of the DL/US slot swap so their service was short-lived. – Several of these cities were to smaller airports that normally only have service to the closest hubs such as the three in NC, myrtle beach, augusta (typo alert in your graphic above), and the three in FL (VPS, PNS, TLH). Extensive connection opportunities over CLT and ATL exist and are often more… Read more »
ChuckMO
Guest

Haven’t seen the schedules yet but DCA-CAK could continue onto DEN which I’m sure WN would want to tie to DCA somehow but can’t do nonstops without a perimeter exemption.

Shane
Member

re VX, they are equally in trouble with their LGA slots if they do not get their Dallas Love gates.

esw
Member
For the cities losing service, the real bad guy is a system that with one hand slot controls an airport, and with the other allows carriers to dilute those slots (from a local O&D perspective) with RJs and connecting passengers. At EWR it doesn’t really bother us, but at LGA and DCA it’s an altogether different matter. If you have to slot control LGA and DCA, by definition they aren’t deregulated. If they’re regulated (to whatever degree), we believe the goal of slots should be to provide access for as many O&D passengers as possible. That means RJs and connecting… Read more »
esw
Member

Boy, do we wish we could edit our comments for typos…

jeff
Member

CRW is losing 1 DCA and replacing it with 1 PHL (Old schedule crw-dca at 1300, returning dca-dca at 1500, new flight is crw-phl at 1300, returning phl-crw at 1525, also pushes current 1700 crw-dca to a 1740 crw-dca). I haven’t decided if this a good, bad or (most likely) neutral. Not entirely sure if any other cities had a similar swap.

Chest Rockwell
Guest

AA is not going to end service on DCANAS. They re-added it on the tapes this week.

av law llm
Guest

MTL is not a huge loss given Burlington is $300 cheaper and only an hour and a half drive.

The fact that DTW lost all competition is HUGE. I can’t believe both SWA and AA are that afraid of DL.

Corey
Guest

Interestingly, AA also added frequency on DCA-STL and LGA-STL, which I didn’t expect in either of those markets (though I’m not sure that netted them a capacity increase). Lambert must be pleased.

Robin
Guest
I HATE this. I have limited vacation time and the direct flights to DesMoines worked perfectly for me to fly out late Thursday night and back early Tuesday morning so I only had to use two days of vacation (Friday and Monday) to go home for a long weekend to visit my family. Now I will not be able to go home as often due to the number of days I will have to take off to make it worthwhile. Me, the little guy, getting shafted again by the powers that be. VERY unhappy about this. Flights were always full… Read more »
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[…] Winning and Losing Airports in the Washington/National Slot Shuffle […]

Chandra
Guest

Does any one know why was the XNA to DCA Non stop American Eagle flight not operating any more? Did some other carrier pick that XNA to DCA and DCA to XNA?

Please reply Chandra.Venkataraman@gmail.com

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