Though Virgin America has publicly said that its future growth will be in LA and San Francisco, it’s hard to forget about Dallas. After all, Virgin America won the battle for two gates at Love Field and will make that airport the airline’s third largest operation. But with only two gates and very little chance of more, Virgin’s options are limited. The airline’s recent schedule announcement for Love didn’t mention Chicago at all.
Virgin America had originally said it would move its three daily nonstops to both LA and San Francisco from DFW to Love Field, and then it would add one additional nonstop in each market. Next, it would add 4 daily nonstops to both Washington/National and New York/LaGuardia (putting the slots it purchased at those airports to use). Lastly, it said it “plans to add two new daily nonstop flights from DAL to Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD) in 2015.” At least, that’s what it said in the original release.
Last week, Virgin America put out a new release with the schedules for its full service plan as of April 29, 2015. The release had no mention at all of planned Chicago service, so it got me wondering. I reached out to the airline and asked if there was an update on Chicago, especially since it looked like the gates were going to be pretty fully utilized.
A spokesperson told me that they do have room for 2 more departures on their gates, which would match the announced Chicago service, but she also said that they were monitoring the situation. In other words, no commitment to Chicago is being made yet.
The gate utilization was something that really interested me. I went and pulled up the schedules to see if I could create a gate plan. Sure enough, this is what it looks like:
This is for weekday travel only since the weekends have lighter schedules. Also, the overnight flights could swap and be on either gate so it’s not necessarily 100 percent accurate. But what exactly does this show us anyway?
It shows that Virgin America is going to get 8 flights a day off each gate. The red areas are the times when the gates are occupied. The time on top is when the airplane arrives and the one on bottom is when it departs. You’ll see two airplanes spend the night on each gate and leave each morning. What will happen is this.
The first overnight airplane will arrive at the gate, get passengers off, and then be towed to a remote location. Then the second aircraft will arrive to get its passengers off. That airplane may also be towed off or more likely just sit on the gate and operate the first flight in the morning. When that leaves, the other airplane will be towed in to take on passengers and depart.
I believe the shortest turn that Virgin America has scheduled is 45 minutes. That’s not that bad since all these flights are on relatively small A319 aircraft. But as you can see there just aren’t that many places where they could slot more airplanes.
The most obvious places are in the morning and at night. Virgin could have an airplane leave Chicago at 630a and arrive around 845a. They could turn that airplane around and send it back to Chicago by 945a. The airline could also have an airplane leave Chicago at 530p and arrive Dallas at 745p. Then it could turn around at 845p and head back north. (Even though the Virgin America spokesperson told me they had room for only 2 more departures at the airport, it looks to me like it’s two more departures per gate. That means another city could see this same Chicago-style service pattern.)
Packing them in with 10 flights per gate per day does, however, present a couple issues. First, the schedule isn’t the best for your Dallas-based traveler. You wouldn’t get up to Chicago until noon at the earliest with a return at 530p, which is pretty early if you need to do a full day of work. And second, it relies on everything going right. Delays at O’Hare and LaGuardia are pretty common, and if one thing goes wrong, then it could mess up the gate situation for the entire day.
The rules at Love Field say that there will be no more gates, and airlines can’t use remote gates either. So if Virgin America struggles to keep its flight on time thanks to air traffic control issues, then that could really wreak havoc. (I wonder if there’s some sort of exception to using remote gates for irregular operations…)
Personally, I know I’d run the heck out of the gates as much as I could. But even if they did add 4 more flights (2 on each gate), that’s really the limit of the airline’s expansion potential there. Then it’s time to turn back to LA and San Francisco.