A Look at Virgin America’s Dallas Operation, and Wondering if Chicago Will Happen

DAL - Dallas/Love Field, Virgin America

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:

Dallas Virgin America Gates

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.

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26 comments on “A Look at Virgin America’s Dallas Operation, and Wondering if Chicago Will Happen

  1. They might even be able to squeeze in some more flights. The 15:15-17:00h on gate two should be from 15:15-16:00h and the 15:05-16:40 also seems kind of long. And then there’s the 10:10-11:30h slot.

    If they wanted to really ultimately maximize their gate usage, it would be: arrive, off-load passengers. Tow away to be cleaned and prepared, while another flight off-loads. After that, tow that first plane back and start loading. Might be quite some steps too far, but this could make it possible to use the gate 30 minutes per plane (2×15 min).

  2. The problem with tight scheduling and a small number of gates is pretty simple. All airline schedules are pretty much based upon best case scenarios, so It may all go OK a lot of the time, but as soon as something goes seriously awry (weather, mechanical, ATC) it is almost impossible to recover the schedule, and just about every other flight to or from that airport on that carrier is likely to end up taking significant delays. If you have lots of gates, you can usually re-arrange the gate schedule slightly to minimize the disruption or limit it to a single destination, but with only a couple gates, and very high utilization, there is very little ‘maneuvering’ room.

    1. It’s a good thing VX is flying to airports not known for delays and IROPS like LGA, DCA, ORD, SFO, LAX…..oh wait….

  3. There is one other option, albeit an unlikely one. VX could cajole, bribe, or otherwise attempt to entice UA to allow them to “borrow” some time at UA’s gates. Perhaps that’s the reason for the delay in the first place; VX is trying to work out an agreement with UA for some favorable time slots but hasn’t been able to do so yet. DL is going to run a few flights to ATL, but given that UA is (so far) only flying to IAH, there probably is at least some availability. Of course, why would UA cooperate with a competitor to operate at its fortress hub, but who knows, maybe they’ll see VX as too insignificant to bother with.

    1. I would think UA would be happy to share. They would rather VX put airplanes in DAL against AA/WN then add more destinations from their lucrative SFO hub. However, the places VX is flying are all UA hubs. NYC, WAS, ORD, SFO, LAX.

      I still think despite the gate limitation that this is a good move for VX. They cannot compete with AA and their loyal corporate base, and so it’s easier to compete with Southwest.

      @Ron DAL allows 6am departures, so VX could add something earlier. US Airways is very good at this. Brett, what else could VX add that would also make sense for DAL O&D? If ORD is too far, then could something shorter work like DAL-ATL or DAL-STL?

      1. Sanjeev – I’m not sure what would make sense for Virgin to add, frankly. They want the big business markets, so that’s what they’re doing. Do they want to try and play in DC or Boston? Probably not a great plan, but they could.

  4. There are some spots showing long layovers so those incomming flights could be towed out and used for another turn around flight before that towed plane is brought back for it’s outbound flight. This also gives some breathing room for delays. The question being where would those flights come from and go that fits into the rest of the system.

  5. Delays at SFO seem to be just as common as delays at ORD or LGA, so even the current schedule might be pushing it in terms of flexibility with delays and cancellations.

  6. I’m sorry, but if I were in the metroplex and needed to do a day trip to Chicago I’m heading out to DFW and flying AA. The last thing I want is to miss a flight and spend the night when I was expecting to get home. Don’t underestimate the peace of mind that multiple R/T per day give the business traveler.

    1. I agree. More choices are always better, especially for day trips. I have lost count of the number of times a customer has called to cancel – 15 minutes after the plane has pushed off the gate.

    2. Precisely. Travel between Dallas and Chicago will almost always be on AA. I don’t see why VX would even *attempt* to compete on that route considering how thin it would stretch them at that gate.

  7. Not sure I get the overnight scenario quoted below…

    “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.”

    It is stated that VX controls two gates, so why wouldn’t both RON aircraft just remain on their gates overnight? (Do they need to be repositioned elsewhere for maintenance?) And–in the morning, you can’t tow on a plane to the same gate for a 0755 departure if your other departure is at 0750.

    1. This is what we meant:

      Gate 1:
      21:15 arrival – tow off gate after deplaning, tow to gate next morning for the 7:50 departure after the 7AM leaves.
      22:00 arrival – keep on gate overnight to take out the 7:00 AM

      Gate 2:
      21:30 arrival – tow off gate after deplaning, tow to gate next morning for the 7:55 departure after the 7:05 leaves
      22:50 arrival – keep on gate overnight to take out the 7:05 departure

  8. This is happening at both gates, for 4 aircraft total. The plane that is being towed back for the 0755 departure is going to the gate that had a 0705 departure, which is doable.

    1. I see what you mean now–four aircraft to RON.

      I had read this as two RONs, with the arrival/tow-off and tow-on/departures as pertaining to one plane, since they were in one box.

      Or to put it another way…
      “Oh, that’s very different. Never mind.”

  9. BTW, I don’t see Chicago happening. With AA covered to ORD and WN to Midway, there are probably better places to use expensive, limited resources.

  10. I believe it was a few months ago that VX publicly stated its desire to get one of the divested ORD gates. IIRC, DAL-ORD service was conditional on getting that gate access, and it is my personal belief that VX wants to use its remaining 2 LGA slot pairs for a 2x daily ORD-LGA service. It seems F9 and NK ended up getting the divested gate space at ORD, and so it isn’t surprising that VX won’t be starting DAL-ORD – unless they end up with access to some sort of second gate. Apparently they don’t want to run anything more than the existing 2-3x daily LAX/SFO-ORD services from L3.

  11. This is part of my complaint about the Wright Amendment…there is still a government restriction on Love Field that artificially limits competition.

    It’s funny…at an ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineers) meeting a couple of years ago, the city engineer in charge of the design of the new terminal spoke, and I asked him whether they had considered potential expansion in the terminal design. He was totally surprised, and said certainly not…it was capped at 20 and they intentionally built it so that expansion would be difficult and costly.

    Seriously? Sigh.

    Does anyone know if Love Field has a curfew? Because that would be a way to get more traffic, something like JFK does with JetBlue. They obviously won’t get the business traveler, but they could pick up more leisure traffic.

  12. I know I’m just one person but I would love DAL-ORD. There’s obviously AA dominating ORD-DFW and WN on MDW-DAL but it’s be great to have a crossover carrier. I just moved to Dallas and am close to Love but if I want to visit my family in Chicago, Midway is just not a reasonable option (even Milwaukee would be better). That’s just me but I do believe there would be a market for the route of VX can pull it off.

    The Dallas DART just completed the route to DFW so there may be some people heading to DFW that didn’t before but I doubt it will harm DAL at all, especially with all the new routes.

  13. “Virgin America has publicly said that its future growth will be in LA and San Francisco, it’s hard to forget about Dallas” ….most of their recent LAX/SFO adds have flopped, and/or been canceled to fund DAL, which is capped at two gates. Soooo where is this LAX/SFO growth going to be?

  14. WOW!!!just a train wreck waiting to happen in due time with that operation. honestly unlike there major competitor that has gates and flexibility to spare if something goes wrong they have no room for major errors in the flight schedule or ideal growth there if they really wanted to do so. guess there was to much pressure from spirit and other airlines that justify the move to DAL. but honestly if DAL is such a great place to go why do u think spirit made a slight interest to it but jet blue never to even consider it at all. In spite of the new American in DFW there is still growth potential for additional gates if so desire form any giving airline dude to the constants of DAL and the ever growing demand for the Dallas/ Fort Worth airtravel demands so gate space in the future is not an issue. but some argue that the big bad American is there along with the aggressive spirit is there as well. but really would it be better to fight market share with multiple airlines at an airport that has the ability for the airline in due time to acquire more gates in the future? or being locked in with the gates that you have  serving more delay prone airports with rules restricting one from any flexibility if an irrops happen in due time (as it will sooner than later) further costing the operation of the focus citys gates for other flights. the cost savings of moving from DFW to DAL could perhaps make them or break them! BUT I don’t think many will think of this but perhaps they should have though of an stand alone operation in Fort Worth’s meachem international airport and do a similar operation there as Frontier is doing in Trenton NJ and Wilmington DE now I things that could have went well for them much better than fighting WN and so on and still have much more room to grow. I know they may not mine to much since the airport once had airline service to it MANY years ago until service move to Amon Carter Field (later Greater Southwest International Airport) then later afterward to DFW airport. this could have been something that fellow Fort Worth travelers (and others) a unique opportunity to have a great airline of there own like Dallas with southwest (perhaps lol). I don’t know its a though though.

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