US Airways Moves Toward Smaller Cities at National After Getting Delta’s Slots

DCA - Washington/National, Delta, US Airways

It’s really interesting to watch US Airways as it starts to announce how it’s going to use its newly acquired slots at Washington’s National Airport. While Delta made a huge splash in New York with its hub-creation at LaGuardia after it got the US Airways slots there, US Airways has gone with a softer launch with the Delta slots it acquired at National. That’s quite fitting.

Unlike Delta, US Airways is going with a phased introduction of new flights. Of the 42 slot pairs that it’s getting from Delta, it looks like it’s only announcing what will happen with 26 of them. I’m told by the airline that more will be announced in February. Meanwhile, Delta has already shown which flights will be getting the axe, so we have a pretty good picture of what’s happening. Here it is.

US Airways Washington National Changes

Now, I pulled all this up by hand, so there could be a couple of issues with the number of frequencies in some of these markets, but you get the idea. I’ve highlighted the most interesting ones to me in green.

As expected, Delta is pulling out of every market save for its hubs with one little exception. Want to guess which one that is? It’s Lexington, Kentucky, where it appears Delta will continue to have 1 daily flight on a CRJ. Why? I have no clue. Maybe there’s something special about that particular slot which will keep Delta serving that market, or maybe it was just an oversight and will be removed shortly. Regardless, other than that, there are no other non-hub flights for Delta.

That includes the ditching of all flights between Boston and Washington/National, a market which has probably suffered greatly with JetBlue in there. There’s plenty of room for US Airways and JetBlue in there, but it was probably a little too crowded with Delta anyway. There’s also a noticeable reduction in flights to JFK. I assume that’s because Delta is really trying to shift domestic flying over to LaGuardia. It doesn’t need as many flights to JFK anymore.

But let’s get to the meat of this story. What is US Airways doing? It is not following Delta by ramping up service in larger markets. Instead, it’s really serving some of the little guys out there. Look for flights to Fayetteville and Jacksonville . . . North Carolina. There will also be service to Ft Walton Beach, Pensacola, and Tallahassee in Florida. These are cities that have been begging for service to the nation’s capital and now they’re getting it. I imagine a lot of this is actually military traffic, come to think of it.

The upshot here is that US Airways is really bringing some great new service to smaller cities, a rarity today. That does mean that some of the cities Delta abandons will truly suffer. Des Moines and Jackson (MS) are the big losers here; they lose their only nonstop to National when Delta pulls out. Unless US Airways adds them in the next round of flights announcements, they’re out of luck.

Mid-sized cities Charleston (SC), Columbus (OH), Jacksonville (FL), New Orleans, Providence, and Tampa will all keep the US Airways service they have today, but they won’t get more flights. They will, however, be losing Delta as nonstop competition. That’s bound to impact fares to some extent. Grand Rapids and Madison are losing Delta as well, but they have new service from Frontier coming in just in time. That actually might turn out to do alright.

It’s funny to see big cities like Miami lose Delta service but not get US Airways in return. That’s probably a smart move on the part of US Airways. The airline doesn’t want to serve every big city from National. It wants to serve every city it can serve profitably. The high costs and massive frequency and loyalty advantage held by American in Miami probably make it worth avoiding.

But what will the next round of adds bring for US Airways? Great question. I would assume that the airline wanted to add the routes it thought had the most potential first, but there could be more in the next round that will surprise. Maybe we’ll even see some summer seasonal stuff, I don’t know. Either way, it seems to be a very methodical process for the airline, somewhat different from Delta in New York.

With Delta, it seems like it has an idea about which cities need to be served from New York in order to “win” the town. The airline made the flashy announcement so it could make its mark. For US Airways, however, it’s really a market-by-market decision based on viability, with no effort to “win” a city. Not quite as flashy, but it gives great insight into the amount of demand to different cities from Washington.

I look forward to seeing what’s next.

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49 comments on “US Airways Moves Toward Smaller Cities at National After Getting Delta’s Slots

      1. I believe it’s actually per day. Look at the 16 flights from DCA to LGA for USAirways; they operate the shuttle there and that’s about how many flights head there every day.

    1. Sorry guys, but it’s the number of days when it’s sub daily. So if you see 0.2, that means it operates twice a week. If you see 1.5, that means they’re adding a full day plus another 5 days in order to get to a full twice daily schedule.

      1. Well I was right for the wrong reasons.

        But CF if you ever email me a spreadsheet remind me to get a guide of how every number is constructed and formatted!

      2. Sorry to be thick headed but your answer is extremely confusing to me. Where is a day added or what is a day added to? An example would be useful. Thanks and happy baby.

        1. I know, this isn’t very good. The number to the left of the decimal is how many flights there are per day. To the right, it’s the fraction per week if there are sub daily flights. Bad, I know.

          I tried to use an example as shown for the first line above. That’s Bangor. As of today, US Airways flies Saturday and Sunday flights to Bangor, so it shows up as 0.2. That means that it’s twice a week (not 20% of a week or day).

          In March, it will add 1.5 flights. That means that there will be one daily flight, plus another flight that operates 5 per week. If you add those two up, you get 1.7, but in this, .7 = 1 daily flight because it operates 7 days per week.

  1. For US Airways this is probably smart. They seem to want to stay under the radar overall. Face it, every time there is a sneeze in the aviation economy everyone says US Airways is going under. So why have a big flashy announcement and get Wall Street thinking about them spending money. Delta on the other hand is viewed as one of the more stable legacy carriers now, so there is less belief they have any financial issues.

    The phased approach also seems to fit with how US Airways has turned around their operation. They methodically improved their DOT metrics so this same approach to announcing new flights also makes a lot of sense to me.

    1. I don’t think it has to do with stability but rather that US Airways just isn’t an airline that markets itself. It lives and dies with reliability, convenience, and appearance on the airplane. Marketing just isn’t something it does, and it hasn’t really needed it so far.

  2. Yeah some of these places are small. I had to look up Jacksonville, NC on Google Maps but it does seem like military traffic to me.

    US Airways has long done well in small eastern markets (particularly when PIT was a hub), and of course in North Carolina. They can charge $250 for a 1 hour flight to DC and still be the cheapest option by far.

    Places like New Orleans, Des Moines, Jackson have plenty of connecting options to DCA, and most have nonstop to BWI on Southwest. If people want DCA nonstops, they should pay or have a connection.

  3. USAir could be adding small cities because they can charge high prices since they would be the only carriers flying nonstop. Also you said some cities have been wanting nonstop DCA service so those cities may have paid for it.

    Also where exactly to all those Senators and Congresspersons live? How much could USAir be trying to get in the good graces of some important officials in DC for them to add one flight to a small city?

      1. Lexington is likely due to restrictions on the slots imposed when Delta (Comair) was awarded them for serving LEX under Air-21/Vision 100 (see Docket # OST-2000-7182). Since those slot exemptions were awarded to OH on a carrier-specific, destination specific (had to be either LEX or JAN), they may not have been able to transfer them in the US swap (or, perhaps, US just didn’t want slots that were so conditional).

        1. I think I saw something today that said that US Airways is applying to take over Delta’s Jackson slot so that it could just resume service the day Delta stops.

  4. Just another smart strategic move that puts the lie to the oft-reported “end of small city service” and “end of small aircraft” usage. With pricing power and economic fares, the service will stay, if not actually expand.

    1. I think Washington is a very different kind of market than most due to the federal government presence. This doesn’t mean that small cities are surging and will get a ton of flights – small city service will absolutely continue to decline. This is more of a market-specific anomaly.

  5. But let?s get to the meat of this story. What is US Airways doing? It is not following Delta by ramping up service in larger markets. Instead, it?s really serving some of the little guys out there.

    it’s doing what it does best. Competing with REGIONAL JETS. Mainline flying has remained Stagnant for years. NO new growth here.

          1. but, if you look at most of the (above) flights, there is NO frequency here. The schedule will satisfy only but a few, so many will continue to drive either way.
            As far as jobs, those planes are likely come from LGA. I would bet those (LGA) Express employees will be trying to get on with Delta, who will be needing more ground staff there. Not moving to DCA for low pay Express rates.

          2. err, I also said “or driving to the closest airport.” intending to mean instead of flying from the airport in their town they’d have to drive two or three hours to the next closest airport….

        1. yes, I know. But, many will drive because of the frequency, AND, because those fares will be HIGH. Southwest just ended it’s flights to PIT and look at the current airfare. $300 to $600 one way.
          hence, my remark, they’ll be competing with RJ service, what they do best. Charging the heck out of passengers due to little/no competition with low frequency.

    1. And again, RJ service to small cities is better than no service to those small cities. You simply can’t get enough passengers for a mainline aircraft to those cities.

  6. One slight correction in regards to LGA & Delta – it is more of a split hub situation. Mid-distance flights will be located at LGA & long distance & international flights go to JFK. The problem is getting between the two airports if you need to connect since you need to traverse Queens in order to do so. This is where an AirTrain extention would be nessessary.

    1. I don’t think Delta intends to “split” their hub operation over Queens. You’ll continue to see service (albeit less frequent) from interior cities timed specifically to feed international operations from JFK, while the majority of connecting and NYC O/D traffic will be shifted to LGA. The way they’ll design the traffic flow, there should be minimal “connecting” between LGA and JFK — just as AA has been doing for years (albeit on a smaller scale at each airport).

  7. “With Delta, it seems like it has an idea about which cities need to be served from New York in order to ?win? the town. The airline made the flashy announcement so it could make its mark. For US Airways, however, it?s really a market-by-market decision based on viability, with no effort to ?win? a city. Not quite as flashy, but it gives great insight into the amount of demand to different cities from Washington.”

    Another way to look at this is “point of origin.” Delta is focusing on New York point of origin traffic and “winning the town.” USAirways has focused more on the spoke cities – what cities (which they are otherwise strong in via PHL and CLT) present the best (profitable, high revenue) opportunities to DCA? Historically, DCA and LGA have been more fragmented competitively than “hub” cities but DL is making this push vs. AA and UA/CO while US remains more of a niche player.

    1. Well, I think it also has to do with the fact that:

      1) NYC is a significantly larger market than WAS
      2) There are three carriers (arguably four, with B6) actively vying to be NYC’s Hometown Carrier, whereas you don’t see the same fight for market share in WAS
      3) US is already fairly established as the leader at DCA, whereas Delta only now will be establishing itself as DCA’s “dominant” carrier. At DCA, there’s really nothing for US to “win” — it’s already theirs.

  8. DCA-DSM will be starting the day after Delta discontinues service.

    A little history here about DCA from back in the 80’s and 90’s, before all of the additional Air 21 slots were added and RJ’s came along. With very few exceptions, the airlines serving DCA only served their hub airports. UA to MIA and the US operations were the exceptions. The only markets served by more than 1 carrier were ORD (AA&UA), DFW (AA&DL) LGA (Shuttles), JFK (TW, DL, AA), EWR (CO & US), BOS (US and DL pre-shuttle), RDU (AA, Midway 2 & maybe US), CMH (HP, US) and MIA(AA & UA) for a time. It wasn’t worth the airlines squandering slots and lowering yields. As such, DCA was a very high yield airport – especially on the routes that US served. But then the RJ’s came and then we had Air 21 and everyone started throwing darts to where they wanted to fly and while it worked when fuel was low, it just doesn’t work now. It’s almost a return to that in a way with this slot swap.

  9. The loss of daily non-stop service between GRR and MSN and the DC area surprises me. Those are two interior cities (one being a state capital no less) where you’d think there’d be political — if not economic — pressure to provide AT LEAST daily service to the nation’s capital, and neither city is served by UA to IAD (nor any of the LCCs to BWI, for that matter). Frontier’s 3x/week operation won’t cut it.

    I strongly suspect we’ll see these two cities in US’s round #2.

    1. the GRR service to DCA was sporadic, at best, but i too was surprised to see DL abdicate DCA service to MSN, one of NW’s mini-strongholds. i too expect to see this restored in the next round of US announcements.

    2. I’m not so sure. I wonder if Frontier might try to find a way to serve it daily by grabbing another slot somehow. If it can do that soon, it might deter US Airways from starting it.

      1. I don’t know about GRR, but the flight Frontier is adding from MSN is on an A319, replacing the regional jets Delta used (I used to live in MSN — *any* service not on an E135/145 is rare and reason to celebrate).

        Also, unless something has changed since I moved away, US doesn’t have a presence in MSN, so replacing Delta’s single daily flight with one of their own would likely require more investment than the route is worth. Frontier already has an established presence they inherited from Midwest, so it’s likely an easy move for them.

        1. That’s a great point, didn’t know MSN did not have a US station. Still unfortunate to not have daily (or multiple times per day) service from MSN to DCA.

  10. US actually was the only carrier flying DCA-TPA until the lease on the NW slots expired and the slots went back to DL. This was about a year ago, now it will go back to only US flying the route.

  11. Whatever happens, let’s hope all of these new flights to small cities (most of which will be flown on CRJ200s) do not go out of God-awful gate 35A. That gate is one of the worst experiences in all of aviation.

    1. LOL That is correct. US couldn’t even find normal stairs. They had to use the jetway stairs normally used by ground handlers. I would much rather prefer ground boarding to that nonsense. But with this many regional flights you can bet that 35A will be used for a long time to come.

  12. Jacksonville, NC (Cherry Point NAS and Camp Lejeune) and Fayetteville, NC (Fort Bragg) to National (the little pentagon shaped building) = Government contracts for US Airways.

  13. Couldn’t agree more about the focus on military related destinations (which also means tons of government paid travel so US can charge whatever they want).

    in addition to the NC destinations listed above, FL destinations like VPS (Eglin AFB literally surrounds the airport and the entire region) and PNS (Pensacola NAS, Whiting Field NAS) also fit the military bill. TLH does not, however, it is a state capital. US does not serve ECP, which would provide further military opportunities via Tyndall AFB; however, US brackets Panama City with VPS to the west and TLH to the east so it is very doubtful they would open a station there just to serve DCA once a day and CLT a couple times.

    just a thought – are they staggering the announcement to allow more of these small cities to “lobby” them?

    finally – still no DCA gate swap announcements, either due to US/DL slot swap or to necessity of uniting former CO gates with UA.

    1. Actually, most government travel is negotiated by GSA contracts at what private citizens would consider to be extremely low fares.

      1. Apparently not my wife’s travel when she worked for the government the past couple years. She flew internationally 4-6 times a year, and I don’t think she ever had a ticket for less than $5K, in coach, because she was required to buy full-fare economy tickets. So stupid.

          1. That’s not how it worked with her. She was required to purchase a B or Y (full fare, refundable ticket) for all of her international travel. Paid the same price that you or I would pay for a B/Y fare…in most cases, $5K+ for IAD-DXB, etc.

  14. DCA is the big loser with gate swap, no doubt about that. It has become a hub to useless cities for US Airways and a welcome mat for discount carriers. Expect a decline in passengers in 2012. How could DL abandon the region with the best economy in the nation?

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