Should United Close Its Hub at Washington’s Dulles Airport?

Pretty much everyone has a theory on how United should fix its problems, and many of those include a capacity reduction of some sort. But Imperial Capital analyst Bob McAdoo created a stir last week when he suggested shutting down the Washington/Dulles hub entirely. I don’t view this as shutting down Dulles entirely. Rather, this would be a way to serve only those markets that are important to the locals in the DC area. The more I think about it, the more it makes sense.

But first, let’s start with a brief history. For years, National Airport was the main airport serving Washington. But the area was growing and in 1962, Dulles Airport opened way out west in the Virginia suburbs.

Washington DC Metro Area Airports

Back then, Dulles was in the sticks, and nobody wanted to fly there. But it had two things going for it. First, National’s runways were short and weren’t capable of handling the coming wave of jets to fly internationally. But even if it could, a perimeter rule was put into place to restrict flights at National from going beyond a certain distance. That rule has been expanded over the years to the point where it’s now a 1,250 mile radius with a couple dozen exemptions that can go further.

The point is this: while National was preferred by nearly everyone, Dulles was forced into becoming the international airport of the area. (Baltimore has long quietly existed to the northeast of town but it to this day has limited international flying compared to Dulles. It is, however, absolutely owned domestically by Southwest.)

In the mid-1980s, United decided to shut its hub in Cleveland (hilarious, right?) and open a new one at Dulles. At the time, the area around Dulles was still pretty sleepy, but United pushed ahead based on the strength of Washington. A new “temporary” midfield concourse was built to house United’s operation, and that was that.

Today, United maintains its hub in that very same “temporary” terminal which looks something like this.

Improvement for Washington Dulles Midfield Concourse

The hub has survived on both government business as well as the explosive growth out in that part of Virginia. Over the years, people have often said that the Dulles hub should have been shut down, but often those calls were without any actual data about performance. It did well. Over the last few years, however, the situation in Washington and with United has changed a lot. And that means that it’s worth revisiting the idea.

What’s changed? Two really big things. First, United merged with Continental. Second, US Airways left United as a partner when it merged with American.

The United Merger with Continental
Before United and Continental merged, Dulles was United’s only hub even close to the northeast US. It was the primary Transatlantic gateway and it was a way to feed people north and south within the US. In the merger, however, Continental brought Newark, the only true single-airport hub serving New York City. Newark may be congested and delay-prone, but it is undeniable that the local market it serves is enormous. It is an important Transatlantic gateway, and it connects people north and south, just as Dulles did before.

With Newark in the network, it makes Dulles as a hub unnecessary. Excluding some of the small Essential Air Service towns served from Dulles that United probably doesn’t care about anyway, there are 10 cities with no service to Newark that do have service from Dulles: Colorado Springs, Charleston (WV), Charlottesville (VA), Columbia (SC), Harrisburg, Huntsville, Philly, Roanoke, Sacramento, and State College (PA). I can’t imagine many of those even pull their own weight today, but if there is strategic importance, they can be given a flight to Newark to keep them well-connected.

All this talk doesn’t mean Dulles shouldn’t be a hub, but it means that United doesn’t need it to be one. The airline can serve all those people who would need to connect over Dulles over Newark instead. There’s even a side benefit here.

Today, you have, for example, 5 flights a day from Richmond to Newark and 3 flights a day from Richmond to Dulles, all on 50 seat regional jets. If you ditch the Dulles hub, then you can probably keep your existing schedule in Newark (without increasing congestion there) but upgauge to larger 70 and 76 seat airplanes. That lowers your unit costs and still serves nearly as many seats for those who need to connect. Naturally, Richmond isn’t alone here. Pretty much everything could work that way within 1,000 miles of Dulles and significantly improve profitability.

On the international front, every single city United serves from Dulles it also serves from Newark with two exceptions: Dubai and Kuwait. Those two naturally have more government-oriented traffic so they make more sense from Dulles. So United would either have to decide that it could make those work from Dulles solely on government traffic (which may be possible, even without a hub) or it would have to give them up.

So realizing that in terms of United’s network, Dulles brings very little that can’t be served via Newark. We have to turn to local demand, and this is where the US Airways move makes a huge difference.

US Airways Leaves United for American
As you probably know by now, US Airways dominates at close-in Washington/National airport. It has the lion’s share of traffic at that airport and serves every small town that any senator has ever asked for. US Airways is the default choice when those in Washington choose their loyalty.

Before, this was great for United. It meant that someone could be elite with United or US Airways and get reciprocal benefits. So if someone was a US Airways loyalist, they would still be able to earn their elite miles by flying United out of Dulles for international travel. It worked pretty well. But now, American and US Airways are merging, so United and US Airways have cut all ties.

That means American will now be the default choice for those who live in DC and fly domestically. Sure, United still gain loyalty for those who exclusively fly internationally, but it’s more common for people to do a mix of both. And American should be looking at this as an opportunity to fill in the gaps where needed. I wouldn’t be surprised to see more flights start internationally for American at Dulles if a corporate account really needed it. The airline has the ability to do that now.

For United, this means it will have trouble building up its short haul network from Dulles because most people will still prefer to fly US Airways/American from National. It needs to rely on connecting traffic to really fill up these airplanes, and there’s no reason for that now that Newark exists as an option.

So what should United do? If it wants to really make a run at Washington, it should pony up some dough. Finally build a real concourse at Dulles, expand its schedule, and try to dominate. But that’s going to cost a lot of money, and I’m not convinced it’ll really work. Alternatively, it could walk away.

Walking away from the hub doesn’t mean abandoning its presence. But it has a lot of joint venture partners over the Atlantic and Pacific that can serve many destinations at Dulles already. It can continue to serve the big domestic markets, especially those that can’t be reached from National, and create an operation that really caters to the local travelers. The trick, of course, is not to cut so much than another airline could come in. But I keep wondering if there is enough that could be cut to really help the airline on a number of levels. I’m not 100% convinced, but it sounds better and better every time I think about it.

[Original abandoned graffiti tunnel via Shutterstock]

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109 Responses to Should United Close Its Hub at Washington’s Dulles Airport?

  1. Jack says:

    Billions of dollars are being spent to make Dulles reachable by the Metro system’s new “Silver Line”. And Dulles has recently spent hundreds? of millions on their AeroTrain system between terminals and their 4th runway. It is becoming more attractive to locals.

    However, they do need to start replacing the “temporary” C and D terminals.

    • Start replacing C&D? They needed to be done with it a decade ago!

      • Gideon says:

        That was the plan. Then 9/11 occurred and so many of our countries Corp centers slowed with their plans. The loads out of Dullus are very good and customer service improving. The A/C/D terminal do, now, need a serious re-review for serious improvement. The private sector business in Western DC is growing exponentially justifying the presence of United’s Hub existence and growth. Any argument that having Newark and Dullus as Hubs so close together would be a dismal one as the population centers in both areas are immense and most people I know would prefer to avoid Newark at all costs for connecting to Dullus in the east. Newark has two “large” aircraft runways hindered by wind, rain, snow or a sneeze. Dullus has four mainline runways which include one or more heated runways. United should clearly keep both but, perhaps, shove Newark off into the Hudson and rebuild while Dullus takes to it’s original plans for their new C/D terminal.

  2. Robert says:

    DCA is cetrtainly not the aiport of choice from the booming western ‘burbs. (I say that knowing that today is the first time in about 20 years that I’m flying from DCA of my own free will). I loath DCA’s short runways and cramped terminals. Even when I worked in Crystal City and the Pentagon, I always tried to fly in/out of IAD, since it is much more convenient to where I live.

    Of course, if United had competent management, we probably wouldn’t be having this discussion.

    • Gideon says:

      Yes, Dullus definitely easier to maneuver and let’s be clear. Do not blame local Dullus management for any ills. This is Corporate UA being lead after the merger (UA/CO) by Attorney Jeff Smisek. He is clearly not an airline person nor does he care about the employees. He actually stated that and has begun outsourcing many “out stations” paying wages less than that of McDonalds or Wendys. It’s obvious when flying to/from these cities which is not the fault of those they have hired but truly a poor Corp decision as they are not trained to handle some of the simplest of questions much less irregular operations at all. So Sad to see the highly skilled tenured employees gone who were able to easily able to quickly rectify an issue on UA’s excellent computer system, known to have been the best of any airline over the very old Doss based Continental system which does not possess the capacity to handle the huge demands of this huge airline no matter what the Corporate excuse is.

  3. Noah says:

    If we believe Mr. McAdoo, then there are a handful of flights that have less than 10 pax on them. No government / GSA contract can make that type of flying profitable, and if it is just to feed a redundant international flight, it hardly seems worth the investment. I know a lot of people who prefer IAD over EWR, but preference is based on choice, and many would not jump to a competitor as a result.

    Being 230 miles from EWR makes most connections a very similar trip time. There are few markets where IAD is geographically better, but consolidation would lead to better scheduling, and it is still hard for IAD to compete with ATL, CLT, DCA for those same passengers (not that UA can’t, but yields are likely poor in such competition). EWR with more connections could mean upgauging the international aircraft which would not only lower costs, but be more attractive to the people who don’t like TA single aisle planes. The same connecting pax can flow over EWR, IAH, and ORD. While a southern gateway would be nice, IAD is too far north. This leaves just o/d passengers left. IAD should shrink to a focus city with flights to key markets with a focus on profitability.

    Off hand, I do wonder if there is some level of government pandering that happens here.

  4. ChuckMO says:

    IAD should probably shrink down to a boutique long haul/trans Atlantic hub a la the Pan Am and TWA operations at JFK back in the day. Outside perimeter domestic and connections to the other UA hubs would probably suffice. Throw in places like NRT and GRU and they’re done. The new AA/US will be able to move quite a bit of international connections from DCA through PHL/JFK/CLT/MIA and ORD thus siphoning off a decent amount of local DC international traffic. The realigning of IAD for UA should be forthcoming in the near future.

    • Mike says:

      This is the likely outcome although I see a drop in service by UA just inviting AA (and maybe DL and others) to nip even more. Odds are that AA (along with its partners) will slowly add more service to oneworld hubs: London, Madrid, Sao Paulo, Tokyo and maybe Lima and Hong Kong. The best situation is for UA to continue offering service to cities where there is natural gov’t demand and it and/or the Star Alliance offer strength: Brussels, Zurich, Frankfurt, Munich, Berlin, Tokyo and Beijing plus western U.S. and Canada. The bottom line is that United ends up with a focus city and not much of a hub.

  5. Tory says:

    You’re forgetting that even loyal United flyers want to avoid connecting through Newark if at all possible – the delays are just so bad. IAD is also their best east coast connecting hub now that Cleveland is gone – it needs to perform the same role that Charlotte does for AA/US and Atlanta does for Delta (albeit smaller and not as geographically optimal, of course). DC is a rapidly growing metro, especially in the Virgina suburbs – IAD will do nothing but grow. As far as AA/US domination of DCA, there are actually some similarities to IAH vs. HOU, DFW vs. Love, and ORD vs. MDW. In all cases a competitor dominates the small close-in airport, but there is still more than enough demand for the large suburban connecting hub. If you’re starting your morning trip from home in the suburbs rather than work in the core, you’d most certainly rather not have to fight the commute into the core airport. IAD as a hub has nothing but long-term upside for UA if they can get their act together.

    • United will lose much International Business by closing IAD. Terrible to fly International out of EWR. Why C & D Concourse so far from Ticket Counters/Security at IAD? Ask FAA, IAD is an FAA airport. SECURITY!!!

    • Theo N says:

      If you look at the passenger numbers for IAD and DCA, IAD has steadily fallen while DCA (with the help of the AA/US merger and the relaxation of the perimeter rule) has risen rapidly. At this point if DCA continues its rapid growth and IAD continues to drop, DCA will pass IAD in passenger numbers, which is completely unacceptable. DCA’s facilities are under extreme stress with 20 million plus pax each year (it should be around 15 million) while IAD on most days looks like a ghost town. If it weren’t for our lovely politicians who love the quick ride to national (and shutting down 395 in the process), national would have been been gone a long time ago. IAD will never be the top airport in the region, especially with DCA and the MWAA (Metro washington airport authority, which runs both DCA and IAD and filled with corruption which they have tried to clean up).

  6. Shane says:

    I have to admit that I like the IAD hub (except for the terminals of course) because I do a lot of international flying out of Dulles. One long term strategy that is missed is capacity. Newark is limited in capacity for future growth. More importantly, there are many partner airlines that do not serve Newark and would not be able to get in because of slot restrictions, or are limited to the number of flights. For example, Lufthansa has its bigger NYC operation at JFK, and there is no room to shift the 5 daily UA/LH flights to Germany to Newark. South African only serves JFK & IAD. There is limited room for new code-share or future joint venture partners at Newark.

    When you look at the long term projections for air travel numbers, the problem is not that IAD is redundant to Newark, it is that United has not managed it properly and probably does not have a good long term plan for it.

    Plus if United moves flights to Newark, they would lose international travelers. There are many non-Star flights out of Dulles to Europe, Asia and Latin America right now, including all of the Gulf carriers that would be waiting to provide better connections.

    • Alex B. says:

      Indeed,

      Slide #4 from this presentation shows the comparison between the three DC area airports. Dulles has by far the smallest domestic O/D, but a very large international O/D market that United would risk giving up if they were to cut back too much.

      http://www.committeefordulles.org/pdf/131219CUBpresentation.pdf

      Another note from slide #4 – there’s more connecting going on at DCA than I think many people realize. US Air had been moving more and more in that direction prior to the merger; it will be interesting to see how/if that changes post-merger.

      Slide #8 shows the longer-term trend – domestic is more or less flat on net over the last 15 years (excepting the Independence Air bump) while international traffic continues to grow.

      • Gideon says:

        Remember, all of those International flights out of IAD are also fed by the inbound connecting cities they fly to and from. That would define what makes a HUB relevant, rather, the purpose for a HUB Culture.

    • Noah says:

      EWR is slot constrained, but how many 757’s are flying across the pond? seat counts could still easily increase through up gauged aircraft. It’s not perfect and slots are still limited, but there is seat-growth potential

      • 02nz says:

        Your assertions don’t hold up when you look at the details. United does fly quite a few 757s across the Atlantic out of Newark but they’re largely to destinations not served out of United, so there isn’t really much room for upgauging (unless you think United should buy a bunch of A380s so they can move current traffic served by 777s and 767s out of Dulles to Newark). Of United’s Newark 757 transatlantic routes, I could only find two that are also served by United (with any aircraft type) out of Dulles: Dublin and Madrid. That leaves at least Berlin, Birmingham, Stuttgart, Hamburg, Lisbon, Barcelona, Stockholm, and Manchester, none of them currently served out of Dulles, so where’s this supposed massive potential for upgauging at EWR?

        Also, the assertion that there are long-haul flights out of Dulles that regularly have just ten people with DC as their origin or destination is laughable. I’ve flown most of of United’s international routes out of Dulles many times over the past few years (DXB, MUC, FRA, CDG, AMS, BRU, FCO, NRT, PEK), and every time I see about as many passengers going into the mobile lounge for DC arrivals as, sometimes many more than, those going into the one for connecting flights. There’s very healthy O/D traffic here.

        • CF says:

          02nz – I’d say there’s plenty of room for upgauging. For example, London has 5 daily flights, 4 on 767-300s. If you need more capacity, then you can use a 767-400, 777, or even a 747 if there was really a need. Beyond the 757s, United has a big mix of capacity sizes in the widebody fleet that it can play with.

          Also, I don’t think anyone said that there isn’t local demand for most international flights. We’re all talking about the short domestic flights here that are required to keep a hub.

  7. Sanjeev M says:

    IAD still does very well for UA, and Mileage Plus is an extremely powerful force here in the Washington DC Metro. IAD also feeds LH,OS,SN,TK,ET,SA,NH with an efficient connecting airfield and in-terminal immigration to UA’s domestic operation.

    IAD is essentially the best gateway to the South for UA (other than IAH) and also doubles as the only uncongested Northeast hub.

    As people alluded to, UA’s network is great. The operational reliability could be better.

  8. Andrew says:

    I don’t know about closing the hub, but I think the airport’s name needs to be changed to remove the word “Washington” from it, given how freaking far from the city it actually is, and replace it with “Northern Virginia Exurban Sprawl” International Airport.

    • Gideon says:

      IAD is not that far. I live in Annandale. 30 to 40 minutes to IAD, roughly the same to DCA with constant traffic congestion at DCA. Prefer IAD also due to a fraction of the delays and cancellations of DCA and certainly UA’s EWR HUB. I avoid EWR at all costs, domestic & international.

  9. David SF eastbay says:

    They could cut back to just IAD to hubs, cities in the west that can’t serve DCA, key international markets, and big city markets to feed Star Alliance International flights. Sure there may be some odd ball small markets where they do have traffic and make money, but I’m sure a lot of their flights at IAD now are just connecting north/south traffic that can be handled by EWR now.

  10. *** says:

    I visited Dulles in the 1960’s and was impressed with the architecture but couldn’t understand why it was located in the middle of nowhere, these days of course the area has been considerably built up.

  11. JB says:

    Washington Airport Authority simply hates United. Don’t know why, UAL made Dulles what it is today. The author needs to understand the reason for a “hub”.
    It isn’t as simple as he states, but he did stay…..oh you know. A hub #1 must have a geographical ability (people numbers) to support a hub. Also, UAL leaving Do-Less, would leave our nations capital without many international destinations served by an AMERICAN airline. It would be shameful to have only or mostly International airlines giving service to our nations capital.

    • GB423 says:

      You must be new here? I’d say CF knows what a hub is supposed to do. Hubs must also make money. In case you haven’t noticed, UAL isn’t doing much of that these days.

      • Gideon says:

        Don’t blame that on IAD. And their loads are very good on all the flights I take and fairs competitive. The new post merger UA/CO leadership is culpable.

  12. Tim says:

    Purely personal perspective here…but I would much rather connect (especially internationally) through Dulles rather than Newark. Newark Airport is a disaster…space constrained, delay prone, and subject to weather that IAD can sometimes avoid, due to geographic location. Would be nice to have UA spend some money on amenities at Dulles. But I avoid Newark as a matter of practice.

    • I’ve connected a grand total of once over IAD, and I’ll pay a fare premium to avoid it. I’d be curious if UA knows how much lower their pricing power is because their facilities at IAD are an embarrassment to all of aviation.

      • 121 Pilot says:

        So Nick you’ve been through Dulles once and your ready to call it “an embarrassment to all of aviation? Especially given the terminals at LGA that seems way over the top. I’m curious when you were last at IAD and if you really believe that people would rather be stuck in NY area traffic delays to avoid IAD.

        I will add that EWR is inevitably limited in the number of flights it can handle by it’s runway configuration and geography. What to me makes far more sense is to focus EWR on the O&D market and IAD on your connecting traffic.

        A shutdown of the IAD hub is a shortsighted move in my opinion.

        • I’ve been through IAD’s United midfield IAD terminal, LGA’s central terminal, T6 (Sundrome) and T5 (JetBlue) at JFK, SEA, SFO, and a few other airports. I was just restricting my comments to the terminal, not the traffic. (air or ground.) I’ll pay extra to avoid connecting over IAD, that includes money and time.

          UA’s terminal at IAD is one of, if not the worst in the US. (Especially since JFK seems to be getting its act together..)

          • Neil S. says:

            We really need to be specific about the terminal horrors at LGA. I fly Delta. Out of A, C, and D, and none of those are third world. Yes, A doesn’t have awesome coffee options, and the RJ gates in D get crowded, but it’s B that’s the problem at LGA. Not all of LGA.

          • Gideon says:

            Really! Have you checked in at or connected through ATL? Awful and so inadequate. Terribly congested to drive to or connect through and rude tired employees. I’ve witnessed muggings at LGA and JFK.

  13. I’ve been looking forward to seeing you weigh in on this. I’ve debated the merits of the United IAD hub as a going concern myself. There is quite a market in the Washington area, and of course, IAD will continue as its primary international gateway. But I don’t see how it fits in the combined airline’s network as a full scale hub (is it even a full scale hub now?) long term unless it is beefed up. It seems that would happen at the expense of UA’s New York operations, which serve a bigger market….. so I think it’s a quandary for them. Then again, I’m just some guy pontificating. :)

    • Gideon says:

      No, your not some guy pontificating; A valued opinion. Read a recent article by Ralph Nader to UA’s CEO Jeff Smisek (sic). It shed some light as have numerous articles in Huffington that are in synch by agreeing that this Smisek (sic) is and has always been since he was placed in his position post merger (ua/co), the “wrong guy for the Job”. A close friend in Corp. Law for about 30 yrs did a background check on the guy and said their firm would never hire him, Harvard Degree’s are no longer impressive. He is a Schlepp who happens to have a pretty face on Camera. His original promise to the Company was that he would take the best of both airlines to make an even better airline. Given that UA was already a world class carrier having won numerous international and domestic awards one would think the board of directors (most all former CO camp) and Jeff S. (CO camp) would have leaned that way. But instead they ignored UA’s best software system (said to be of all airlines) for dismal reasoning for CO’s Doss base system which has crashed numerous times (made the news) dismantled their mileage awards program, also known to have been the best in the world and are currently outsourcing out stations for very low wages to kids with no life experience who really do try but can’t troubleshoot their way out of a chewing gum bubble. This, as I have been flying for over 30 yrs. simply astounds me that yet another Lorenzo would be supported by their board of Directors. These policies have received not only media criticism but long time and very loyal Corporate Contracts ending and moving to less worse airlines. My wife also flies with her job. Her employer also had contracted with UA for years but have gone mostly to “Southwest” believe it or not. “Wake up UA Board of Directors!” This wheel did not need to be reinvented.

  14. CJTaylor says:

    With the millions invested in expansion and infrastructure at Dulles airport over the past few years, it is absurd to imagine United walking away.

    • Dave says:

      Have you heard about Pittsburgh and US Air?

      • Matt says:

        United only has $20.8 committed to the design of the terminal replacement (March 2008), of which they have paid just under $6m. $14m to walk away from the airport is not much these days. Everything else happening there is on the MWAA and their assumptions.

  15. Alpha Jullet says:

    Dulles is a great connecting airport for UA with midfield customs, easy access if coming from outside DC area and easy mobility within the facility, although crowding can make it challenging to move quickly thru midfield. However, UA has continually made it a challenging place to use with very poor management, very poor employee training and monitoring and above all the worst attitude in the country. EWR is no bargain as noted. IAD could be a great airport for customers (passengers) but for now, it remains disappointing. Of course, getting there if more cuts are made don’t leave IAD an option. We experienced continual downgrading from mainline to RJ to prop a/c the latter being cancelled at any opportunity, thus leaving us stranded and out of luck. I have switch entirely to another Intl carrier from another city.

  16. alpha juliet says:

    Dulles is a great connecting airport for UA with midfield customs, easy access if coming from outside DC area and easy mobility within the facility, although crowding can make it challenging to move quickly thru midfield. However, UA has continually made it a challenging place to use with very poor management, very poor employee training and monitoring and above all the worst attitude in the country. EWR is no bargain as noted. IAD could be a great airport for customers (passengers) but for now, it remains disappointing. Of course, getting there if more cuts are made don’t leave IAD an option. We experienced continual downgrading from mainline to RJ to prop a/c the latter being cancelled at any opportunity, thus leaving us stranded and out of luck. I have switch entirely to another Intl carrier from another city.

  17. Arie B says:

    “Sure, United still will gain loyalty for those who exclusively fly internationally”..from IAD

    This IAD HUB thread becomes somewhat irrelevant based on the change to MileagePlus and related impact on loyalty! Imitating anything Delta does relating to customers or employees is NEVER a good idea!

    Loyalty to UA?!….How, now that UA Management has completely devalued the ability to earn miles based on miles flown effective March 01, 2015. The vast majority of premium level MileagePlus members are small business owners or do not have “the company” picking up the tab for full fares. There will be no reason for long time loyal UA/CO premium FF to use UA from any airport, anytime!… LH has a partnership with Jet Blue out of JFK to almost everywhere in the US….. Why bother with EWR(delays) or IAD(limited UA domestic service). For that matter why bother with UA at all if you cant earn rewards based on miles flown anymore?…After March 01, 2015 You won’t be able to earn significant/comparable reward miles!. …. Combine this major change with all the operational and customer service failures since the merger, where is the incentive to Fly UA? .UA mangement is ignoring MileagePlus premium member fury with the change from earning rewards based on miles flown. UA Facebook blog response has been ” give it a try and you will see the positive impacts..” However they won’t respond when asked to outline the “positive impacts”

    I have, on occassion purchased a higher fare with UA based on the ability to earn miles flown… I would always stick w UA…no incentive for that now even at 11x the base fare…..the devaluation is so severe compared to miles flown……

    Both DL and AA have offered me the same top level if i join their programs!

    Where is UA’s loyalty to the majority of it’s most FF’s?? Not too late to reverse that move and give members the option of earning either by price paid or miles flown…based on customer preference, rather than misdirected thinking UA will cut costs and save money!..

    UA has a lot more to worry about than operations at IAD…they better do something quickly to retain the good will of a majority of MileagePlus premium flyers that are being forced by bad managment decisions(like ability to earn miles) to jump ship! Never too Late to admit a mistake and revise the change to earnings options!!

    • Arcanum says:

      The Mileage Plus changes are here to stay. Most of the Elites will piss and moan but in the end will stay with UA because of its routes and partners. A few will actually switch to AA/US, only to come back when AAdvantage adopts the same structure a year down the road.

      The mileage game has been favouring the customer over the company for a long time now, particularly those in the US who churn and burn with credit cards. The system has been rebalanced due to increased costs and pressure from UA’s partners. It’s unpleasant but necessary.

  18. Bibliobear says:

    Given the choice of a connection at Newark or Dulles, I’ll take Dulles anytime. As others have implied, closing the Dulles hub and consolidating UA hub operations at Newark would be even more of a disservice to customers than the current arrangement. I personally don’t mind the UA facilities at Dulles, but I think re-balancing capacity between Newark and Dulles and building the replacement midfield terminal before the cost gets even more prohibitive would be the better course, from a customer service point of view. I sometimes wonder what language “Newark” is for “Guaranteed Delay.” Granted Dulles has its problems too at times, but my experience has been good there, and I avoid NYC area airports like the plague.

  19. E.Mat. says:

    Let’s remember that the USG’s Fly America rules have loosened up considerably. Given that, no one in their right mind will fly thru Newark if United closes its Dulles hub. Granted, other Star Alliance partners will then benefit, but United itself will lose a lot of business. Also, the Richmond to IAD v. Newark example is ridiculous; connecting the VA state capital to the NoVA suburbs is a much more powerful need than connecting to Newark.

    • CF says:

      E.Mat – You have to remember that Swiss/Lufthansa/Brussels/Austrian/Air Canada/ANA all have a joint venture with United, so if they do the flying, United loses nothing. It gets to share revenue either way.

      As for your suggestion that Richmond is a ridiculous example, please tell me how many people you know who fly from Richmond to Dulles when they could drive to the DC area in under 2 hours. But even if you don’t like it, there are a ton of other cities that behave the same way.

      • Carl says:

        I’d love to understand the business terms of these JVs. People consistently make statements about sharing revenue. Obviously they don’t share the revenue 50-50 since there are operating expenses. But it has to be a lot more than that because even today, the JV airlines can be reticent to rebook you on the partner, the mileage earning sometimes differs, award prices differ. I do think that a JV partner makes more money when their metal flies full than when the partner metal flies full, so at best they are sharing a fraction of the operating profit of a given flight. I don’t think it’s equal to UA whether a pax flies on UA metal vs. on LH LX SN (or whatever Brussels’ code is). UA gets something when they fly on the partner but less than when they are on UA metal.

        I don’t disagree with your point that airlines shouldn’t keep a hub just because of easy connections… good O/D traffic is necessary for profitability. Is IAD that weak?

        • CF says:

          Carl – There are adjustments primarily based on how much flying each airline does. So of course if, say United flies 70% of the capacity and Lufthansa flies 30% (simplifying here), then it wouldn’t be a straight 50/50 split. But the idea is that you should be “metal neutral” when it comes to who flies which flight. You should benefit pretty much the same either way – that’s how it’s designed.

          As for Dulles, McAdoo pulled out a lot of info in there showing that there are a ton of markets which have very little to no local traffic on them. Of course, that doesn’t apply to all markets, but it seems like there could be real opportunity to cut this down.

          • Carl says:

            On the JV, that would mean they also ought to negotiate capacity jointly. But it seems like each airline decides which routes to fly and how much service, with at most informal discussions. It seems important to LH to fly at least one flight on LH metal to each of UA’s hubs, at least that is what they do.

            I heard anecdotally that when NH decided to launch NRT-SEA, they did so without discussing it with UA, who was operating NRT-SEA at the time. The UA folks said they attempted to discuss the schedule with NH so that at least the two flights would give business travelers more options, but NH scheduled its flight pretty much right on top of UA’s flight in both directions. It didn’t really seem like JV-type of cooperation.

            IAD really does suffer in O/D market share because DCA is more conveniently located for the bulk of the population. That does hurt it as a hub, except on routes that aren’t served from DCA. The population for whom IAD is the more convenient airport is small.

            Will the same logic say that the new AA should shutter either JFK or PHL? Maybe downsize JFK?

            • CF says:

              Carl – A good, functioning JV should have joint scheduling and pricing decisions being made. That does happen with Lufthansa pretty closely, from what I understand. As for ANA, it’s a “less mature” JV to put it mildly. I think there’s a big cultural issue that prevents this from being what it should be so far. And yeah, that Seattle flight certainly points that out.

              As for AA in JFK/Philly, I think that should be the model that United strives for. United should make Newark the hub, just as AA has done in Philly. Meanwhile, AA is working to make NYC a market focused on local (sometimes NYC-destination, not origin) traffic. That’s what Dulles could be.

      • Ben in DC says:

        Uh, Cranky… I understand your point about it being a waste to fly between Richmond and DC, but the only way you can drive between those two cities in under two hours is if you do it in the middle of the night. The traffic on that stretch of I-95 rivals what you deal with out there in LA

        • CF says:

          Ben in DC – Of course, we’re not talking about getting into the city anyway because those people would fly into National! But yes, point taken that the traffic sucks. So let’s just pull up the numbers…

          In 2013, United carried a whopping 1,020 passengers between Dulles and Richmond (or vice versa). That is just shy of 1.5 people per day each way. This comes from the DOT 10% sample of total traffic so with low numbers like that it’s not perfect, but safe to say that just about nobody is flying it.

          I was going to look up what US Airways carried between Richmond and National, but they don’t even fly it! Clearly nobody is flying that route.

        • David says:

          Umm but there is also no way you can fly RIC-IAD in less than two hours either.

          15 min Drive to RIC
          45 min check in at RIC
          45 minute flight
          15 minutes to get out of IAD
          20 minute drive to destination

          2 hrs 20 minutes minimum…

    • Ron says:

      The recent loosening of Fly America, specifically the provision in the open skies agreement with the EU which allows for US government travel on EU airlines, only applies to non-Defense travel. And DoD is big in Washington.

      Of course, government flying on a United ticket “operated by” a foreign carrier has been allowed since the early 1990s, and it applies to all agencies (including Defense). So in that sense Fly America does not pose a limitations, as long as United keeps selling tickets on its partners.

  20. Carl says:

    United would lose much of the flow traffic the connects through IAD and likely all the O/D traffic if it shuts the IAD hub.

    I don’t know how profitable the IAD hub and whether it makes good business sense to keep it, but it is a fallacy to suggest that they would be able to shift much of the traffic via EWR. First EWR is landlocked, so there will be no new runways. It is slot controlled so there will be no new flights. Gates that are not part of terminal C, which is at capacity, are awkward for connections.

    EWR is good for NJ and some NYC O/D traffic and some limited connecting traffic, but is not a preferred connecting hub and RJ flights and prop flights are entirely unreliable to use for connections at EWR. After being burned once or twice, no one returns to EWR for international connections.

    So a decision on whether to dehubs nees to be based on IADs standalone performance and not twisted by a contrived assumpted that profitable traffic will flow via EWR instead. It won’t and that traffic will be lost, to other hubs, to foreign airlines, and maybe to a competitor who takes up residence at IAD.

    Now the UA concourse does need to be addressed by UA & MWAA.

  21. Terry says:

    Newark is an awful delay prone airport. Dulles is a great connecting airport that I have been connecting at for 25 years. United should NEVER think about closing this great east coast hub. From Cleveland (my home) Dulles is far better than Newark or Philadelphia or JFK

  22. CF says:

    There are a lot of people saying that Newark is awful and Dulles is great so that’s why United should keep it. Airlines don’t and shouldn’t keep hubs open just because they’re easy for connections. There are plenty of former hubs littering the US that used that argument, but ultimately it doesn’t hold up.

    • Eric C says:

      Dulles is a geographically huge airport with excellent capacity, surrounded by very wealthy towns and a high tech corridor, with a high demand for business and government travel both domestic and international. It’s 150 miles further west than NYC for people traveling westward, saving a bit of flying time (and more ground delay time), yet is no more out of the way for north/south connections. It’s four years from having a train line that will increase it’s catchment area by what, a million people who would otherwise despise the drive out there? It’s an airport that has no reason not to be a hub for someone.

      Unfortunately everyone is fighting over NYC next door, and it is awfully close to have two hubs. But would we have FIVE airlines with NYC hubs and none in IAD? It’s almost as though IAD needs it’s own airline that isn’t distracted by NYC marketshare. An airline that would be willing to serve the 50 or 60 markets IAD can support, with frequent, friendly service. Maybe with blue bubbles on the tail. An airline, in short, that United would pull out all the stops to kill with excess capacity and in the process grow IAD into an even larger hub and that makes them realize how viable it is.

    • But how much does it factor in? Sure PIT couldn’t power enough connections to make sense, even though it has a nice efficient midfield terminal mall, but if you have people actively avoiding connecting over a given hub, that has to eventually impact your pricing power, yields, etc.

    • FT_Roy says:

      Dulles isn’t so great (although Newark is, in fact, pretty awful), and that “temporary” concourse is an embarrassment. But from a network perspective, I would have to think that losing IAD could be pretty painful. As you already noted, MileagePlus isn’t nearly as useful now in the DC area given US Airways’ departure from Star. However, that also impacts feed to the rest of the network. Remember, US leaving Star also takes CLT away from UA and the rest of Star Alliance, leaving IAD as the closest thing to a SE hub UA’s got. Sure, it’s not the best situated geographically, and sure, it’ll never be an ATL or a CLT, but it’s something. I mean, AA tried multiple times to start up their own hubs in both BNA and RDU, and for good reason – where else do you serve those southeastern cities from? Newark and Houston? Really? Even IAD is a better way to serve the southeast than that, I would think. One could also simply walk away from that region for the most part, but I can’t imagine that’s a wise decision.

      • CF says:

        FT_Roy – Interesting point about the only alternative to Charlotte, but is it really much of an alternative anyway? United simply doesn’t serve the southeast well. For pretty much everyone, your choice is Delta or, now, American. United has some limited utility for travelers, but to really attract people to take the longer routings, the fares have to be lower. So they end up doing more flying to get someone somewhere and get paid less for it. I guess the question is… do they really lose all that much if they can’t serve those customers?

    • Demo says:

      CF – you got that wrong; Airlines shouldn’t being using hubs that are difficult for connections! From my experience as a longtime Premier flyer for business and as a VERY frequent non-rev (benefits from a friend) flyer for fun there is no worse place to connect out of than EWR. I almost laughed when thinking about how ridiculous it would be to switch capacity up to EWR from IAD. The airspace around EWR comes to a complete stop with the first sign of rain. Its smarter to focus EWR on O & D traffic and IAD on connecting traffic with a focus on the many *A carriers flying into IAD.

      All that said, I’m not a big IAD fan. I love DCA! fly out of it whenever i can bc its easy to get in and out of mostly because its an 8 minute drive from my house in DC. IAD on the other-hand is way out there, BUT way-out there where the significant population base of the DC Metro region actually lives! Particularly the frequent business travelers.

      Conditions are also going to get better at IAD. With the train connection passengers will have a easy way out to the airport. I’m close to a number of MWAA board members who are going to continue to push United to invest in the new terminal. That will significantly increase UA’s costs of operating out of IAD though but that will improve conditions and allow/require UA to better plan for the future. That said, for all the haters of IAD and the terminal, lets be honest, it ain’t pretty but it does work.

  23. JayB says:

    Who knows? I can’t say I ever saw much of anything coming to pass in this industry. I can’t believe DCA still exists. But, as long as the name Reagan is attached to it, It’s probably never going away.

    I couldn’t have imagined the population/power growth around IAD. From whence–Tyson’s Corner? A new town built right next to IAD, 60,000 people, 6,000 acres of Virgina ex-dairy land, unincorporated, no less.

    Many of us around IAD view DCA as someting akin to the Catskills–nice, but that was then and this is now. Maybe DCA is OK, we just can’t get there. EWR? If our lives depended on it, I guess.

    My offer to the airlines–kill off ALL hubs–save one at Salina, Kansas–managed by FedEx. By the time the Silver Line gets to IAD, will any airlines still be at the airport? Someone, of course, will have the Government-GSA contracts, all at fares 10 times what everyone else is paying–probably a Texas International, with everyone routed via Dallas.

    But, Terminal C/D could probably be turned over to the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center as a companion to the Concorde as an on-airport, in-terminal, piece of airline-iana from its dying days.

    Gotta stop. To watch soccer. To think!

  24. dotti cahill says:

    Duloles is such an armoit of an airport. I have to come in from Frankfurt via lufthansa to get on a united to florida. We were dumped off from one of those people busses/ then it was all downhill ..january and it was hotter than&^%% in the terminal.. tried to get some cold bottled water –none to be had then we got on an old united plane in the back after fying 1st class lufthansa waht a mesds.. They should knock the terminal down as it is so outdated and start all over. Hey it is washington where most our our $$$ end up for taxes……

  25. Arubaman says:

    Yes, UAL should close a hub. But it should be DEN, not IAD. Too much competition and very limited international flying in DEN compared to IAD. With hubs in IAH and SFO, DEN becomes somewhat irrelevant. Toss in a significant LAX presence with the ORD hub, and DEN can be lived without.

    • Tory says:

      Disagree. While there is a lot of competition there, I think Denver is United’s key to keeping a lock on the west coast, especially LA. Anyone picking a loyalty airline in the fragmented LA market knows that if UA doesn’t have a nonstop, then they at least have an easy connection through Denver. It also probably helps keep loyalty from CA’s smaller airports – they can make the drive to SFO or LAX if they want the nonstop, or they can just connect thru Denver from their smaller local airport. Delta at SLC and AA at DFW don’t have quite that same power.

      • Arubaman says:

        If UAL values DEN, why didn’t they respond to the massive WN intrusion? No fare war. No real response at all. Not much of a defense.

        • Tory says:

          I don’t have any inside info, but I’m guessing they didn’t want the profitability bloodbath any more than SWA did. I think they saw that SWA’s cost advantages were dwindling, and they co-existed with them just fine in Chicago and Houston and LA, so they didn’t worry. Or maybe they thought SWA would grow more at the expense of Frontier than them. Maybe they’d rather compete with higher cost SWA than Frontier?

        • Davywavy says:

          United did respond – originally. It boosted capacity and matched fares on all the then common routes with Southwest.

          Within a year, DEN had transformed from United’s most profitable hub to it;s least profitable – the (now defunct) Rocky Mountain News flat-out said that United was loosing money at DEN:

          http://m.rockymountainnews.com/news/2007/Apr/26/united-loses-money-on-denver-hub/

          <,>

          So United decided to stop chasing the low end fare, killed Ted, and went for the higher end passengers.

    • CF says:

      Arubaman – The general thing I hear about Denver is that it just has too much capacity. (That’s the story of United these days, I guess.) Seems to me that Denver serves an important place in the network to some extent, but maybe it needs a haircut. (I haven’t really looked in this one all that much lately.)

  26. DesertGhost says:

    Looking at McAdoo and your analyses makes the idea of closing United’s Dulles hub seem logical. But it also seems there should be enough government traffic to support an international presence at Dulles.

    As you suggest, maybe the idea of a limited international gateway at Dulles is right, but the airline running it should probably be American. It could establish a “split hub” a la Delta in New York. But one might wonder how the DOJ or DOT might react.

    Maybe US Airways wasn’t as inconsequential as some airline aficionados thought. Maybe it was the “pretty girl” all along.

    • CF says:

      DesertGhost – I agree with that 100%. If United were to pull out, then American should try to dive in to key international markets. Then again, Philly is pretty close, so it would have to serve only strong local markets. But that would be logical… if United walks away. I don’t know that American would want to deal with the short term bloodbath if United doesn’t walk away first.

      • DesertGhost says:

        I agree with every point you made. It wouldn’t be financially prudent for American to challenge United at Dulles, and any American hub / focus city operation should be very limited with Philly right up the road (even closer than Newark).

        Maybe American can sell some or most of its Newark slots to United. Without the Star Alliance connection, it doesn’t need much of a presence there.

  27. MarylandDavid says:

    Don’t look now but up the road a bit:

    http://www.baltimoresun.com/business/bs-bz-bwi-southwest-international-20140627,0,4050792.story

    Aviation consultant Michael Boyd thinks that BWI, where international traffic is up 20%, could add Asian flights at some point. He thinks that service to more European hubs could be in the cards as well. The airport is in the middle of a $125 million renovation that will offer better connectivity between Pier E (international) and Pier D.

    That being said, I think a ‘right sizing’ of the IAD hub makes a lot more sense than abandonment.

  28. Robert says:

    THE GREATER WASH DC AND BALITMORE AREA, NEEDS COMPETITION–SOUTHWORST, for trailer trash ,at BWI, AMERICAN ,AT DCA, and UNITED ,AT DULLESS
    DONT THINK THE JUSTICE DPT WOULD LET AA DOMINATE WASH DC ,WITH BOTH AIRPORTS AS HUBS–A MONOPOLY ,NO COMPETITION, unless AA bribed-paid off, gave a monetary ”gift-donation”, to the Justice Dpt, but that would be horrible for the consumer

    • CF says:

      Robert – Last warning. If you’re going to post a comment, first, stop yelling. (All caps is considered yelling, so please don’t use them unless absolutely necessary to make a specific point.) Second, stop insulting people. One comment you posted today has already been flagged and removed. Instead, try to focus on crafting an argument based on valid points instead of personal attacks. If this (especially the second point) continues, then you will be blocked from commenting.

    • MarylandDavid says:

      I’m not a huge fan of SWA, but to label it as a transport mode for ‘trailer trash’ is insulting. If you fly regularly out of BWI on SWA, you’ll find that there are plenty of business travelers on the your flight. From my experience, the same can be said for SWA flights out of Midway, BOS, CLT and ATL. I’m sure there are also plenty flying out of DCA on SWA.

  29. DesertGhost says:

    Given 20/20 hindsight, is it possible that Dulles should never have been built?

    • CF says:

      DesertGhost – Well, National just doesn’t have the room to grow to be a true international facility. Could Baltimore have served DC as the international airport? Possibly, if they had built the infrastructure right. But there are still a ton of people in Northern Virginia that would find Baltimore pretty tough to reach. Dulles still has a place today, and there is a local market to serve. I think the only way Dulles has no place is if National could expand.

      • Alex B. says:

        The real questions are a) if Dulles should’ve been built where it was, and b) if National should’ve remained open after Dulles opened.

        For a), one of the finalists for a new international airport was what is now Andrews Air Force Base, just south of the Beltway in Maryland. The plan was then to build a new AFB someplace else nearby (perhaps in the location of Dulles today), as the existing military air fields in Washington had the same contraints as the civilian airports did.

        This would’ve resulted in less room to grow and expand, but a much closer location to the rest of the city.

        The $64,000 question is if consolidation to one airport (e.g. closing DCA) would’ve been more palatable if the new international airport were closer to the city than Dulles is. Hard to say if they ever would’ve followed through with it.

  30. Ron says:

    Quick correction — United does serve Philly from Newark! It just flies to ZFV rather than PHL :-)

    (Annoyingly, though, when you search united.com for transatlantic flights from “Philadelphia”, it only shows flights from PHL connecting at places like IAD or ORD; to see flights from ZFV connecting at EWR you need to specifically put in that “airport”.)

    • Ron any tips for finding these? (I’m curious what they looked like.) I tried to find a SEA-ZFV “flight” and United.com and Hipmunk wouldn’t find one for me.. :-/ I could take Amtrak all the way, but that is four days and only has two or three connections to make.. ;-)

      • Ron says:

        I tried ZFV-TLV and ZFV-BRU on united.com and both came back with results. My understanding is that Amtrak code shares are primarily intended for transatlantic connections, so could it be that they’re not timed well for SEA connections? As far as I know, only select trains have a code share.

        As for taking Amtrak all the way from Seattle to Philly, looking at the published schedules it would appear that on some days it should be possible to make the trip in 3 days and just one connection in Chicago, if you take the Empire Builder (SEA–CHI daily) and then the Cardinal (CHI–NYP via Kentucky and West Virginia, operates 3 days a week). However, Amtrak no longer considers this to be a legal connection, because the connecting time in Chicago is under 2 hours and lately the Empire Builder has been prone to 3–5 hour delays in both directions. They also broke the Empire Builder’s connections on the West Coast, which is a bummer for me because I used that connection (at PDX) last summer, and would have considered using it again.

        • I peeked at this and they may have it tuned for only international connections. TLV->ZFV has a 4:20am arrival with a connection to Amtrak/UA3220 leaving at 8:20am. There are flights from SEA that land at EWR 5:27am which means it should connect just fine… Although now that I have looked that up and I try it I can find that connection.. Eh, sigh.

          I’ve had bad experiences with the Cardinal.. 12 or so hours behind. And its fun to have to stay upto 4 am to catch the train..

          That being said SEA has local transit from the airport-SEA to the Amtrak-SEA. And if you’re adventurous you can connect from the Cascades/Sound Transit only stop TUK to the airport in just about 30 minutes.

  31. Shane says:

    So if United upgauged the aircraft to fill in the untapped capacity at Newark, are there facilities/gates for the airplanes? The current Express terminal is packed full of small RJ’s, and there would not be room for 737’s or larger RJ’s if they all got bigger. Plus the facility just cannot handle that many passengers. It’s a zoo right now as it stands. Does Newark have the real estate for another terminal expansion for United to run an ATL-like operation?

    • CF says:

      Shane – Good question. I would think if you’re talking about upgauging a CRJ to a CRJ-700, it shouldn’t be that much more of a footprint. But certainly facility would be an issue to address.

      I think the other thing here is that it shouldn’t be a one for one capacity replacement for Dulles anyway. You’ll hear a lot of people echoing the sentiment that United needs less total capacity in its system anyway.

  32. O-Bran says:

    Close IAD hub and reroute thru EWR instead? Sounds great on paper until you’re stuck with all the weather delays that EWR has.

  33. Ben in DC says:

    I know this wouldn’t stop them from leaving town if things were bad, but UA did just built a new maintenance hangar at IAD within the last 6 months. Seems to me they are planning to stay at the airport for the long haul

    • CF says:

      Ben in DC – Ask the good people of Indianapolis and Oakland if that matters.
      http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20030505/NEWS02/20008754/united-shutters-two-maintenance-centers

      Of course, they could keep doing maintenance there. We’re still talking about a good sized operation so it wouldn’t be hard to route airplanes through there.

      • Ben in DC says:

        The Indy example almost kept me from posting my comment in the first place. My only point was that UA just invested in the hangar, meaning their mindset right now is to improve their operation at IAD. I know they can change their mind in a year or two. Jeff Smisek has also been pretty vocal about his desire for a new C/D concourse. If I recall, he’s complained about how MWAA spreads out its debt between IAD and DCA.

        Personally, as a person who lives in the DC suburbs in Virginia, I find the situation at Dulles frustrating. DCA is the best choice if you live or work in DC or live nearby. But for everyone else, it is a pain. DCA is cramped and overcrowded, security lines are long and many of your decent food options are outside of security. Delays are common, and parking is either expensive or unreliable. I’d fly out of IAD every time if I could, but unfortunately, your domestic options are pretty limited outside of United. Most other carriers fly the bare minimum there. On more than one occasion, Delta has cancelled my flight from MSP to IAD, and put me on the DCA one instead. With the Metro extension under construction, and pretty much all non-government job growth in the region being in Northern Virginia, my hope is that domestic service improves in the coming years

        • CF says:

          Ben in DC – True, and my guess is they believe in Dulles. But if there’s a management change at some point, then I would assume everything would be on the table.

  34. IndustryOutsider says:

    At this point, given the decisions/executions by the CEO, it is becoming more and more a forgone conclusion, IMO, that UA will need to consolidate/retreat to SFO (TPAC), IAH (LAT), EWR (TATL), and ORD (Dom). Is the cost of offering a hub (i.e. chasing revenue in a hub model) in IAD, DEN, and LAX worth it? As I said, given the decisions by the CEO/BOD/Wall Street Analysts the answer may be no because they will need to shed costs. They already stated they are in cost cutting mode with the $2Billion goal. Anyhow, just my opinion.

  35. Bick R. says:

    Gentlemen, I lead a one man team to conduct an exhaustive 10-minute DCA airport improvement study.

    And this is what I came up with:
    http://s28.postimg.org/x6miia5r1/BICK_S_DCA_FIX.jpg

    Thoughts? Thanks!

  36. Richie W. says:

    Cranky, you mention that there are a few destinations served by IAD that are not served by EWR. One of those destinations is my most frequent: ROA. As I live on the west coast, I often prefer to fly to ROA via IAD. Why? Delays. If the short-haul aircraft are stuck elsewhere due to weather or mechanical problems, I could hop in a rental car and drive the four hours of IAD-ROA; something not easily feasible if connections are made in ORD, or even EWR. Sadly, over the years I’ve had a few “trips in vain” because of weather issues when traveling to ROA via ORD.

    I tend to plan my travel out months in advance when possible which means I often notice when flight time tables are changing. ROA-IAD used to have three trips daily back a few years ago: one morning, one noon, one evening. This coming late summer and fall there is only the one morning flight. It seems that UA is trying to shift connecting traffic to ROA via ORD, which is a not so fun experience for pax as the flights are on EMB-145s and are just over 2 hours in length. Oh, and the drop in frequency of ROA-IAD did not counter balance with a pickup in frequency of ROA-ORD.

    While I’m still a UA loyalist (I live in a hub city), they’re not making it easy on me these days. More planning for travel on less than ideal aircraft seems to be the norm.

    • CF says:

      Richie – Says a lot about what a crappy operation they’re running if you have to plan a lengthy drive into your flight planning process! I think I’d probably be looking to a different airline if my options were that bad.

      But Roanoke is an interesting city to look at. Yes, Dulles provides more utility to people in Roanoke than Newark would, but really, does United provide much utility to those in Roanoke anyway? They have limited flights to limited hubs and they get smoked by Delta and American/US. So it’s going to be tough for United to compete in Roanoke no matter what. Sure, they want to be able to get loyalists in other cities to Roanoke, but for the most part they can do that via Chicago and potentially Newark.

  37. Pingback: [BLOCKED BY STBV] Analyst: UA should de-hub IAD; Cuts UAL rating - Page 22 - FlyerTalk Forums

  38. CF says:

    While we’re digging in to this idea that Newark is an operational mess and Dulles is awesome, I thought I’d pull out some stats to show that’s not the case. Both are pretty bad.

    I looked at flight info for the first 6 months of this year (using masFlight.com). Mainline, the operations weren’t much different. Both Dulles and Newark saw 97.9% of flights completed. Dulles had a slightly higher on time performance at 80.9% vs 77.4%. That’s really not much different.

    Regionals had a bigger difference but they were bad in both places. At Dulles, only 91.8% of flights were completed. At Newark it was worse at 86.4%. Neither of those numbers should in any way be acceptable. Dulles had 73.6% on time while Newark had 67.4% on time.

    Yes, Newark was worse, but man, those are just pathetic numbers all around.

  39. Tory says:

    What those numbers don’t convey is how long you spend on the tarmac at Newark in line waiting to take off on the lone departures runway. I know they build it into the schedule, but it is still incredibly frustrating.

    • CF says:

      Tory – I’m pretty sure they do, actually. Unless I’m pulling this data wrong, it should be departures and arrivals to/from Newark. And this is arrivals within 14 minutes, so it includes everything that happened before that airplane blocked in at the gate.

      • CF, I think Tory is saying its just the wait to take off in and of itself, even if it is part of an ontime arrival.

        People don’t like waiting, even if all they’re going to do is sit on the plane for another few hours.

        • Tory says:

          Yes, Nick is right, that’s what I was trying to say. After you push back from the gate “on time” it can be forever until you’re actually in the air.

  40. I’ve connected through and and used Dulles as my destination airport from ORD/MDW. The only thing I would like United to do is threaten to cut flights in order to get the C/D concourses demolished and proper facilities built. More importantly United needs to get its house in order. IAD will survive or die based on its long term profitability. If it makes money United will stay regardless of the facilities.

    • am1108 says:

      +1 Its really a shame that MWAA didn’t start the new C/D first before building the Silver Line (that they have been proposing since 1960s-1970s. )

  41. Patrick says:

    I agree with Cranky–the more I think about this, the more it makes sense for United to draw down Dulles. It seems like American might really be able to threaten United without exposing themselves to much threat or price wars: if they beef up hub/beyond-perimeter domestic flights just a bit, they might be able to up the frequency of the JV London flights from Baltimore and Dulles; and try out new JV nonstops to Tokyo, Madrid, and maybe even Helsinki or Sydney. This, coupled with a reasonable number of Dulles-Philadelphia flights (it’s remarkable to me that AA isn’t on this route yet), would really make AA shine as the DC-area carrier of choice–and it seems likely to reduce the economics of the Dulles hub enough to basically force United out. So would United be better off leaving on its own, or being pressured out by AA?

    On a related note, can AA move a beyond-perimeter slot at DCA to Ireland, since Dublin and Shannon have pre-clearance? I know they can play with at least the slot that just switched from San Diego to LAX… do they have flexibility with the Vegas or Phoenix slots? It seems like they have plenty of domestic feed at DCA to make a nonstop to Ireland work, even without any feed at the other end. This, of course, would put even more pressure on United.

    On the other hand, I think Doug Parker & company have been carefully avoiding picking fights so far for good reason. Aside from the ongoing merger issues which are certainly demanding focus, I speculate that they’d like some sort of resolution with the Alaska relationship (I suspect American’s playing hard-to-get, trying to extract as much as they can from Alaska), and then see how Delta reacts. As long as they’re not dragged into the fight over Seattle (and Anchorage, and Salt Lake City, and Portland…), DC looks like a great opportunity for American to grab some additional market share.

    • CF says:

      Patrick – Interesting question about Dublin. I believe only the most recent slot awards can be moved. As far as I know, the Phoenix and Vegas slots can’t move. Not sure about the LA slot that AA had originally. But the San Diego one, yes. Problem is – are you going to get more profit out of a second daily to LA or one to Dublin? I say most definitely that second daily to LA.

  42. No Fly Zone says:

    I cannot disagree with most of your post; you’ve got the details right. OTOH, WTF would one really want to fly United? Hubs, connections, bags, tickets, reservations and access to correct an error, United just does not cut it. IMO, they still think like the ‘old days,’ and they just do not give a twit. Unless one enjoys the elusive “Global” status, United won’t be of much help. It seems that the basic attitude is, ‘…we’ve got a great network, and one that we like. If it does not fit your needs, please feel free to …’ essentially buzz-off.
    If one is ‘fortunate enough’ to get confirmed main line seat, one can expect a very dirty airplane, not even water without a card swipe, cabin staff angry about something (working?) and who truly just don’t care. That certainly includes Cattle Class, but also “J” and better. They could care less.
    For one semi-regular trip, I have no other choice, so I’ve come to learn the details all too well. For other trips, when options are available, it is anything other than United. Even buying the darn ticket – forking over the money seems to be difficult for UAL.
    The other domestic carriers may not always be trophy winners, but they do seem to understand who pays their overhead and they are polite. United… kinda maybe NOT. They just do not get it.
    –A great post and thank you. -C.

    • Bobber says:

      ‘not even water without a card swipe’

      ……..erm, ok. You have ACTUALLY flown on UA, yes??

  43. Mr. Robert says:

    I’m the first Robert poster, not Mr. All Caps.

    Flew out of DCA on Tuesday night. Still hate it.

  44. AlexB says:

    The paint is barely dry on the de-hubbing of CLE – do we need to wait to see what impact (if any) that has on IAD? Presumably that should strengthen IAD a bit, although I admit I haven’t investigated the specific routes/flows that are involved (and maybe the analysis by Bob McAdoo already factored that in).

  45. Jeremy McMillen says:

    Speaking of Government type of flights (Flights ran with government people flying on them in mind) I am surprised UA killed the 1X Daily flight from ABQ-IAD. So I would not be surprised if we see even further reductions to cities from IAD where it would be lots of Gov employees, and even close the IAD hub and shift most if not all flights to EWR.

  46. Paula says:

    United at Dulles is the only airport I fly in and out of its closest to me and I refuse to fly out of BWI to far of a trip

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