Topic of the Week: Memphis Shrinks Again

Delta, MEM - Memphis

Delta has quietly started shrinking Memphis again. Beginning January 4, service will cease between Memphis and Baltimore, Grand Rapids, Gulfport/Biloxi, Mobile, Northwest Florida (Panama City), Seattle, and Wichita. Delta will also cut one daily flight between Memphis and Cleveland, Huntsville, Jacksonville, Newark, Philadelphia, and Shreveport. Where will this end? What’s the future (or lack thereof) for the Memphis hub?

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23 comments on “Topic of the Week: Memphis Shrinks Again

  1. MEM will slowly fade away. I, for one, welcome all you connectors to Atlanta!

    Assuming DL will eventually shrink MEM to service to the hubs, plus some of the usual P2P suspects (LAS, Florida, DCA, LAX, etc.)

    SWA has inherited Airtran’s 4x daily service on MEM-ATL. It’ll be interesting to see if they decide they like MEM’s low costs and start plugging in places like HOU, MDW, MCO, etc. Can’t see them ever having a huge operation with ATL, BNA, and even HOU/DAL nearby, but I could see them at 15 or so flights/day.

  2. You would think they would keep nearby Gulfport/Biloxi, Mobile to feed to the west and upper midwest. Sounds like DL could be gearing up to bring those planes into ATL to bulk up service to help fight WN.

  3. Makes complete sense: (1) GRR – still has far more preferable connection options on DL than MEM plus, as the largest station at GRR, DL will likely consider restoring ATL service which would be a net gain for that airport. (2) SEA – can’t imagine loads were great between MEM and Seatac.

    Whaaaaa? (1) ECP – WN must already be beating their brains in at ECP but it’s worth noting that MEM to the old Panama City airport was a very popular run for NW. (2) BWI – does anybody realize how little service there is between the DC area and Memphis? despite having the following hubs/focus cities, UA (IAD), WN/FL (BWI), US (DCA), DL (MEM), which could, in theory, produce six different runs across four carriers between the DC area and Memphis, there leaves us with just one… DCA-MEM on DL. NW never flew from MEM to IAD, this kills the old NW service to BWI, UA does not fly from IAD to MEM and WN does not fly from BWI (or anyplace else for that matter) to MEM.

    Veddy interesting – (1) The “regional” cities like Gulfport, Mobile and Wichita – I would have thought these are the among the most likely feeders to their MEM “hub” so if they think these cities don’t make sense as connecting points, I wonder how many “spokes” from the MEM hub really do make sense?

    End-games: (1) I am guessing that very few of MEM’s remaining spokes make sense financially so that it will likely end up like CVG or STL, meaning each run will have to make sense on O&D traffic alone or it will face the chopping block. (2) Will FL’s station at MEM (currently at 4x to ATL) convince WN to bulk up there? the BWI cancellation made me think that DL will be dropping a few juicy nuggets along the way that could be backfilled by WN (much like they did at STL while AA was disappearing).

    1. This leaves the door open for SWA to swoop right in. Bill in DC – I live in the region and am also surprised by the lack of flights to MEM. It really means that there is simply not enough business travel to MEM. Here is a prediction, however: within one year, SWA will fly from BWI to MEM.

  4. Sad, but not shocking. MEM was marginal but necessary in the NWA days when it was the focus point of the NW southeast network. Now that they have ATL it is somewhat pointless. Like Brett wrote about this spring….when you start pulling feed to marginal hubs due to poor traffic/yield then you cut off feed segments that performed well and it just becomes a vicious circle of downsizing.

    What will be interesting to see unfold is if the reduced MEM feed operation can justify continued AMS service. I’m also amazed that it is still a crew base (same for CVG).

  5. A couple of thoughts.

    With the “slot swap” partially approved (DOJ is still reviewing DCA) Delta is going to need aircraft for its expanded LGA service.

    Maybe Frontier can ultimately fill the void (if the O&D and other traffic possibilities are good enough). It might be nice for the airline to have a hub or focus city where it doesn’t have such cutthroat competition.

    1. +1. I’ve been pushing the Frontier focus city at MEM option for a long while.

      Southwest will come but not be huge. Standard spoke with 2-3 dailies to the hubs.

      In fact, I think basically cutting MEM could benefit CVG as well. MEM and CVG are not that far from an airplane standpoint, and certain Southeast spokes could benefit CVG (which is still a decent size hub at 149 dailies). And most of these Southeast flights would much prefer CVG over DTW.

      Brett, I have one question. Are there any routes that Fedex corporate traffic alone can sustain, e.g. AMS?

      1. IMHO Frontier is not in any position to be expanding into another focus city. In fact, they have been retracting significantly from their existing ones, especially MKE.

        1. I was simply making an observation. I wouldn’t expect Frontier to expand, just shift some capacity from MKE and DEN. But I’m probably all wet about the whole thing.

          1. Observe away! I defniitely didn’t mean to come off snarky, if that’s how you read it. I just think Republic in general is in big trouble and will likely have a bunker mentality for the time being with all its brands.

            OTOH a stand-alone Frontier actually tried some focus city type service from MEM a few years back. I can’t recall the destinations but the service was short-lived as NW beat it back with extreme prejudice, as they were wont to do when attacked on their turf.

  6. We all know that part of the point of mergers is to consolidate operations (ie: hubs). But at what point do hubs become too large to operate effectively, especially in irregular ops? How many more flights can Atlanta, for example, handle and get people out on time without driving the passengers crazy?

    1. I was wondering this as well. If you’ve got a centralized network with fewer hubs, you’ve increased the reliance on that hub working properly. ATL’s got a afternoon thunderstorm reputation, perhaps they’ll swing more back to MEM in the summer? (You know, just pick up everything from ATL, move it to MEM for the summer, then move it back… Yeah, that’ll work.)

      1. Well, don’t forget about DTW, MSP and JFK. Although certainly not perfect replacements for MEM, they can and to take enough traffic that only flights in the south really depend only on ATL. Most transcons and international flights can connect through other hubs just fine, and considering that MEM never was that big of a hub to begin with, this isn’t a really significant loss from their network.

        1. JFK can only handle more capacity through upgauging or purchasing more slots.

          My point is that even a DTW, MSP or any other hub has limited runway capacity. If Delta were to consolidate into 5 hubs, United into 5 or 6, would you end up with more flights than gate space, runway capacity, ability to shift bags between all the flights within a bank, etc. The logistics become untenable at some point even with technology advances (even Apple or Google cannot move luggage a mile between airplanes much quicker than today) and almost nobody seems interested in the serious investment in infrastructure to create mega-mega-hubs.

          1. True, but only JFK is really at capacity yet. DTW and MSP can certainly take some of the slack, and even ATL can too. MEM was never as big as either of the two, so by routing local traffic through ATL and other connecting passengers (transcontinental and the like) through all its other hubs it will work out fine.

  7. The closure of the NW MEM hub was inevitable once the merger occurred. It was a very marginal hub to begin with — probably a bad idea from the beginning. It happened at a time when lots of “Midwestern” cities like Pittsburgh, Columbus, Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Kansas City became hubs. Remember when some supposed airline experts wanted to build hubs in the middle of nowhere for easy connections? Then, of course, everyone in the industry realized you needed strong origination/destination traffic to actually run a profitable hub, as you could attract a significant yield premium from offering nonstop flights.

    Memphis’s proximity to Atlanta makes the hub particularly untenable. I guess for appearance purposes, DL prefers a slow wind-down instead of a simple announcement that the hub will be gone. I suppose it has experience with this in Cincinnati.

  8. It is all under the Delta brand, but withlooking up the details, one wonders how many of these cut flights are (or were) on Real Delta Metal, not their snicker-doodle. service-free partners. If given only the distance, a few have to be real Delta cuts, but most look like cuts to puddle-jumpers. So sorry! The current term is Contracted Regional Carriers, those who fly the CRJs and such. If this contines, the only opportunity to fly on US legacy metal will be international flight. Those usually have comopetition and that competition’s product is usually better. The Legacy metal carriers MAY fly my butt, but they will have to earn the right. A few are reliably consistant and doing their best. They get more chances. Others, (like US Airways!) Have violated me so many times as to become my Never again, if I can help it airline. Folks, this is really sad. For domestic flying, the usual order is fast and reliable connections and having given up on service. It is a crap-soot. For internationa, trace those code-shares and ride on foreign metal. Sorry, but it is the truth and it applies to all three classes.

    1. From this list, Seattle was the only city with mainline service, the others only RJ or prop service. Either they will keep CRJ service to ATL or they will service altogether and will be begging for their CRJs back again.

      Besides, I’ve had plenty of good and bad service internationally, both on US and foreign carriers. For me, Delta ranks way ahead of Air France, for instance.

    2. It is true that a crazy-high percentage of legacy domestic flights are now operated by “partners.” Does anyone have a stat on this, and who operates more mainline service than the others? I find it unusual these days to take a domestic connection and have both flights be operated by the mainline carrier. This is arguably a selling point for Southwest, since at least you easily know what you’re getting. I do suppose it’s a reason why so many more commuter planes are getting first class seats installed these days.

      It also exposes you to problems you might not be expecting. Like last week I was flying US out of PHL, but I was actually flying Republic. Republic’s computers went down, and their flights (including mine) were in chaos — while the rest of the US network was operating just fine. I really had no idea until I got to the gate and assessed the situation (fortunately, I was able to catch an “earlier” Republic flight that was running more than 4 hours late).

  9. When is a hub no longer a hub?

    MEM follows in the footsteps of CVG, STL and PIT. It’s become mainly a spoke.

    MEM is not needed as a hub in DL’s network, and it doesn’t have enough O/D traffic to support a hub.

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