Which Airlines and Cities Stand to Win if The LaGuardia Perimeter Rule Disappears?

LGA - New York/La Guardia

We’ve heard rumblings about the death of outdated perimeter rules at both Washington/National and New York/LaGuardia for years. But could it actually happen in New York? It seems that there are talks about the perimeter rule going away at LaGuardia, and that would be great news… for some airlines. Others may not be so happy. And different cities will have mixed emotions as well.

Let’s start by going over what the perimeter rule involves today. The rule says that, with just a couple exceptions, flight to LaGuardia cannot originate from more than 1,500 miles away. Flights from LaGuardia can’t go to a destination beyond 1,500 miles away either. That line draws out like this (the original map is from Great Circle Mapper, which is a fantastic tool.)

New York LaGuardia Perimeter Rule

Though the distance has changed at times in the past, you can see exactly why it ended up where it did today. Dallas and Houston both magically squeak in just under the limit. Amazing how they also squeak under the 1,250 mile from Washington/National too, isn’t it? That’s a powerful Texas lobby.

You can see that Denver, despite being more than 1,500 miles away from LaGuardia, got itself grandfathered in as perfectly acceptable. Go figure. The only other exception? This rule doesn’t apply on Saturdays at all. Airlines have tried nonstops beyond the perimeter on Saturdays but most of them fail.

It’s the Port Authority that says it’s reviewing whether to eliminate the rule. But as is always the case with the Port Authority, if it happens, I’m sure it’ll take decades to get done.

Let’s say that in 2080, the Port Authority finally decides it’s time to eliminate the rule. What does that mean for everyone involved? Well, if it’s in 2080, I have no clue. But let’s pretend there’s a miracle and the Port Authority acts in the near future. That would mean we’d see more long haul travel at LaGuardia and smaller cities might lose service. Here’s how the winners and losers break down.

American and Delta Win
Both American and Delta have large slot holdings at both LaGuardia and JFK. So why would they be winners? Because for the vast majority of high dollar business travelers, LaGuardia is the preferred airport. You can imagine that both Delta and American would instantly start flying from LaGuardia to many of the cities in red on my map above. In particular, LA and San Francisco would be huge for them. Sure, that would require replacing existing service, but these guys probably have more service in some markets than they need today. It wouldn’t be hard to move things around.

While other airlines have slot holdings at LaGuardia too, they would have to cut much more essential service in order to serve these new markets. And if they did, they still wouldn’t likely be able to match the frequency of American and Delta. The flights from JFK would instantly become less important. Sure, JFK would still be needed for international service, but for west coast service, LaGuardia would become as important as it is today for travel within the eastern half of the country.

JetBlue, United, and Virgin America Lose
For those same reasons stated above, JetBlue, United, and Virgin America would be the losers.

For United, it’s more than that. United has spent years developing Newark as the only true global hub in New York. That wouldn’t change since LaGuardia would never be able to handle long haul travel. (I say never assuming there’s no chance they’ll both add a customs facility and extend a runway a lot.) But all those people who go to and from the West Coast on United via Newark will no longer have to compare to JFK travel times and convenience. When compared to LaGuardia, Newark becomes less attractive to a ton of people in Manhattan.

For JetBlue and Virgin America, it’s really mostly about the lack of slots. Today, they can compete on transcon markets with everyone else out of JFK. But if the competition starts frequent flights from LaGuardia and you can’t make the move, you’re going to take a hit.

There aren’t just airlines that win and lose in this game, however. There are also airports.

Big West Coast Cities Win
Of course, it’s the big west coast cities that will come out well here. Travelers will no longer have to choose from JFK or Newark. They’ll have the option to go to LaGuardia. Those who are going into Manhattan will prefer LaGuardia nearly every time.

JFK service will still exist, especially thanks to international connections, but at a reduced rate, I’d assume.

Small East Coast Cities Lose
Those small cities that have service to LaGuardia today should be the most concerned. Think Bangor, Dayton, Greensboro, Norfolk, etc. You get it. It all comes down to simple math. Do Delta and American think they can make more money flying a 757 to LA or a CRJ to Bangor? The answer won’t always be the same. Some of these shorter-haul small cities probably do quite well. But there’s no question some small city frequencies will have to be sacrificed in order to serve the big markets.

Some small cities might see less service. Some might lose LaGuardia service all together. Who knows, maybe a couple will end up getting JFK service instead. But things would certainly change.

In the end, a lot more people will benefit than will get hurt if this were to happen. Let’s see if the Port Authority can actually take action.

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45 comments on “Which Airlines and Cities Stand to Win if The LaGuardia Perimeter Rule Disappears?

  1. Very interesting. Though as a lifelong New Yorker, 2080 seems incredibly optimistic when dealing with the Port Authority. Let’s just call it 2100 and hope we’re not all teleporting by then.

  2. Don’t forget that some of those short hauls to LGA are $$$$. Back when I lived in Cincy, CVG or DAY to LGA nonstop was often ~$700, vs $400-500 with a stop.

    It still might make sense to drop a DAY – LGA flight in favor of one farther west, but either way, it will be a very pricey flight.

    If you’re going to/from Westchester County or Fairfield County, your two main options are HPN (which in my experience is one of the first airports in the area to suffer weather-related cancellations) or LGA. JFK and EWR are both long drives with high risks of (road) traffic delays.

    Fun fact: HPN has the priciest parking of any of the 4 major airports in the NYC area.

  3. I love how the “independent” courts twist the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution so much. If government wants to regulate and control wheat produced and consumed in one’s own farm (clearly not interstate, much less inter-town), it conjures a way. However, when government wants to restrict interstate commerce with some arbitrary and fungible rule (Denver), it does that. The main point of the Commerce Clause was to make sure one state (in this case, two) did not choke off commerce in the common US market. I wonder if Western would have survived if it had won its case against the PA in the 80s.

  4. Agree with everything you said. And I generally hate government restrictions like perimeter rules. I think we would see a lot of small regional flights move to JFK as bigger destinations take over LGA.

    However, the one problem with loosening LGA is, as you say, flying more 757s and less CRJs. Those terminals are already beyond max capacity. Throw in more 757s (or equivalent sized a321s since it will be in the future), and LGA really will be busting at the seams.

    For reference, the CTB was built to handle 8 million pax per year. In 2013, it handled 13 million. More pax would make the experience at LGA even worse.

  5. This is no easy question to answer. As for right now it will not seem feasible because the terminal cannot handle that kind of influx of passengers. Hence why they are projecting that year that they are. As an ex-New Yorker now living in the 6th borough of South Florida I can look at it in another perspective than I did when I lived there and even worked at LaGuardia many years ago with two carriers that no longer exist because of mergers. Until the Port Authority truly rebuilds said main terminal and actually adds a subway station underneath it somehow then the removing of the rule will make sense. They are already adding a subway line that has been needed for some decades now and hopefully that will help. But all in all until all 3 major airports have their terminal not just updated but completely refurbished or finished i.e. Terminal 7 @ JFK or American Airlines. Plus the two older terminals at Newark. Because travel into and out of the Metro New York area will increase and they need to prepare themselves for it. They surely need to catch up to the many other major cities around the world that have turned their airports into their own sustainable cities of their own that gives the traveling public places to truly and deeply relax while in transit or offer amenities that most have never experienced in this country at all. Yes I have gotten off the topic but in truth all things in reference to LaGuardia are still part of the greater equation for better airports. LaGuardia surely has past its times and desperately needs to be changed even if some of the old hangers are demolished. However the Marine Air Terminal cannot be touched at all. Again this will not be easy and opposition is surely to be present either way.

  6. Were this to happen, for DL’s and AA’s network planners and C-Suiters it’s not ridiculously hyperbolic to say it would be a “once in a career” opportunity to repurpose a major city on the network; one both carriers view as strategic (though at last check with different point of origin objectives). Smaller cities should be worried irrespective of how profitable their LGA service might be.

    Even in the post-2007 environment (capacity discipline, yada yada), there are airports in which airlines are willing to make strategic investments (i.e., lose money to gain market share over time). SFO and LAX are two great examples of this. A sudden lifting of the LGA perimeter rule would be the airline equivalent of the Oklahoma land rush, with AA and DL the carriers most eager and able to take advantage. Each will want to “win” LGA, and neither airline’s employees will want to answer to their bosses or boards how they “lost” LGA to the other. So, they will err on the aggressive side, and will be ready to pull all LGA service they do not consider essential to achieving that strategic goal, even if that service makes more money in the short run than the longer haul service that takes that slot. Small RJ cities that are less profitable will go first, but even more profitable ones will be reviewed for “right sizing”, if not complete withdrawal, of LGA service in order to free slots for longer haul strategic cities. Unless a smaller airport can demonstrate to AA or DL how its LGA service over time can financially and strategically outperform, say, SEA service (and good luck with that), its LGA service will be at significant risk.

  7. I am not sure the repeal of the perimeter rule is going to have as much impact as CF suggests. There is a fairly serious fly in the ointment so to speak. The longest runway at LGA is only 7000 feet. Unless the carriers invested in big engines (and US Carriers are notorious cheap in that regard), such as B26/B27 CFM56’s on 737’s, the aircraft are going to be payload restricted on a typical summer day. You fill the tanks on a 737-800 or A320 and add 150 units of self load cargo, and the performance of these aircraft drops dramatically. This tends to be less of an issue with 737-700 (B24 will work), and A319/A318 because for commonality the A320, aircraft were often bought with the same engines used on A320’s, so they tend to have better thrust to weight ratios and better short field performance. The A319 also enjoys a substantial range advantage over the A320, so the trip to LAX/SFO/LAS against prevailing winds isn’t so ‘delicate’. The convese is true of the 737-900ER and A321. These aircraft tend to be underpowered relative to their smaller relatives, and that negatively impacts takeoff performance.

    Flying Transcon is another flight operation that a 757-200 with RB211-5E4B’s can handle easily out of LGA , but the typical legacy UA 757 with PW2037’s would take a substantial payload hit (20,000 pounds) to fly the same mission . (not really meaningful because UA did not buy enough MGTOW on the 757’s to fly these missions anyway)

    1. US/AA regularly runs a 321 to PHX from the even shorter DCA runways. There may be some issues on the worst heat days but your not going to have a ton of freight into LGA so then your just dealing with the “self-loading cargo” and their inanimate followers. Which will help some.

  8. I never want to pay for a taxi when I’m in NY if I can avoid it. When I fly to JFK or to Newark, I can take a train from the airport into Manhattan. If I fly into LGA, I’m stuck with a bus into Manhattan. When I fly from SFO to NY, why would I want to go to LaGuardia?

    Subject: Which Airlines and Cities Stand to Win if The LaGuardia Perimeter Rule Disappears?

    1. Corporate customers who pay top dollar get their taxis and car services paid for, so they don’t care about that cost and the draw of LGA is how much closer it is to the city than JFK, which means they would pay more to fly there instead of JFK. Even if they didnt pay more than JFK, a 180 pax paying similar amount might be more profitable than 11 people going to Bangor. If I fly into Marine terminal, I can go from plane to my apartment in under 20 minutes. JFK would take an hour, another hour if I’m at the end of DL’s new T4 extension (kidding). So after a 5 hour SFO flight, that 45 minute+ savings could be really nice.

      Even still, depending on where you are going, the cab from LGA to manhattan is $20-40. For a lot of travelers, that isn’t that much more than $5 airtran + ~$10 LIRR ride+$2.50 metrocard to get from Penn Station to wherever you are going, especially if you are travelling with more than 1 person as cabs can be split.

      The bus is pretty easy and reliable, especially if you take it to Jackson and then transfer to a subway. That being said, PANYNJ is building LGA an AirTrain so there will be a non-bus public transit option. It is going to go west (away from manhattan) to connect at willets point to the 7 subway and the LIRR. Not sure it will be much faster than the bus to manhattan, though. But I’m sure a ton of LGA workers who live in queens will be happy. I wish PANYNJ built a train from Penn to GCT to LGA or JFK with no or limited other stops and no connections or transfers, but it’s the Port Authority, so it will never happen.

      1. Last time I “flew” to NYC, I found it cheaper to fly my favorite AS SEA to DCA flight, Metro to Union Station, and then Acela to NYC. Seriously, round-trip, this was $500 cheaper including my Amtrak ticket. And when you figure the baggage claim and ground-transportation hell that is part of any NYC airport encounter, I probably saved an hour each way (AS at DCA is a breeze). And I got to ride the train!

  9. I think full repeal of the perimeter rule will not come to pass in the near future. We most likely will see some exemptions doled out over time, a la DCA. Never forget there are politics involved, not just NJ/NY but any state that might win, or lose because of the changes.

    I could see initial “awards” given out:

    OK DL, you get 1 daily to SEA and 3 to SLC. See you in 5 years when we revisit this topic. AA maybe 2 LAX and 2 PHX. 3 to SFO for UA etc. For those airlines with less slots they could magically create a batch of say 12 and dole them out to the others.

  10. Another winner would be AA/BA/London City Airport, as I’m sure the LCY-JFK service would move over to LGA (since it stops in SNN and gets Customs pre-clearance and thus arrives as a domestic flight).

    1. Alex raises a very good point! We all keep tripping over ourselves to talk about LAX, SFO, and the like but BA’s London City to JFK service is no joke and I’m sure the Brits would waste no time or energy figuring out how to move that to LGA, however would they be able to get a slot?

      That would be extremely interesting to watch since a LGA LCY route would drastically reduce the travel time between Manhattan and London(as opposed to flying Heathrow to JFK or Heathrow to EWR, and even faster than LCY to JFK)

      1. While it might be nice to move the service to LaGuardia, I’d imagine it unlikely that the eastbound flight could make it nonstop since it’s a short runway at LaGuardia. If that’s the case, then this wouldn’t move.

        1. That’s true. But I can’t imagine slots would be an issue. If it’s technically feasible to do the LGA-LCY departure, AA could easily assign one of its slots to BA, since joint venture route planning and revenue sharing is done jointly anyway. However, another technical hurdle I’d forgotten is that the SNN US Customs pre-clearance facility is only open for one of the two LCY-SNN-NYC flights; that would preclude landing at LGA. I suppose the *could* have one flight land at LGA and the other at JFK, but that seems too confusing to customers to be feasible.

  11. Sitting here in Burlington, VT it is hard to see us winning, but I’m not sure we would lose either. Right now we have 3X to 4X daily flights to both LaGuardia and Newark. If we want to go west the best connections can be gotten from 3X to 4X daily flights to Detroit and Chicago. Right now, if you want to go to international, you can’t get to JFK from Burlington. So I would assume that if the perimeter rule was dropped at LaGuardia, Delta would move some of the west coast capacity from JFK to LGA. That would free up slots at JFK for local northeast traffic. JFK is a slightly less desirable airport for NYC O&D but switching to JFK would give Burlington access to NYC AND international connections. (Other service included 3x to 4X daily flights to Washington National, Dulles, and Philly. We have a single daily flight to Atlanta).

    1. JetBlue does BTV-JFK 3x a day. And has connections to the Caribbean as well as other international destinations through code shares.

      1. Awww. Your right!!! I knew that too and forgot. Fell into that trap of making the problem fit the solution. I don’t know how cranky turns out well researched articles day-after-day. I’m just amateur hour.

    2. B6 does multiple daily to BTV from JFK.

      BTV could use some more service (actually, more competition – not necessarily more service) but it has a pretty good network given the size. It should compete better with Plattsburgh for the canadian traffic though.

      In any case, BTV has plenty access to JFK. I wish they had more flights to LGA

  12. I think the Port Authority has learned that if LGA is open up to the western part of the country that JFK will not become a ghost town, and EWR would not fade away either. Why should travelers from the west still have to travel via somewhere else to/from LGA.

    The large metro areas of SFO/OAK/SJC and LAX/BUR/SNA would greatly benefit with access to LGA. The only Saturday service I ever knew about was when ATA did SFO-LGA.

  13. What’s stopping airlines from keeping CRJ service to BGR and adding mainline service out west? I assume the slot restrictions come into play? It’s interesting that both DCA and LGA are both slot restricted AND range restricted.

  14. I’d guess terminal capacity would be the largest current issue. As the CTB gets redone might see some ability to handle the increased capacity. Though a handful of exemptions are probably likely in near future.

    AA’s lax 321Ts seem like they’d fit nicely in LGA.

  15. Great points all around. I tend to agree that PANYNJ will use the DC template and offer (for a price ) exemption slots. A full sunset of the perimeter rule before a new CTB and improved surface connectivity is insane. The additional stress to an outdated and overstretched infrastructure would negate the geographic superiority LGA holds over JFK & EWR.

    The ground transportation time savings a SFO originating pax gains by flying into LGA will be squandered on rolling release times at their origin or sitting in the penalty box waiting for an open gate.

    1. The ground transportation time savings a SFO originating pax gains by flying into LGA will be squandered on rolling release times at their origin or sitting in the penalty box waiting for an open gate.

      Great turn a phrase considering that the Islanders & the Rangers are 1, 2 in the metropolitan division.

      I hope readers keep in mind the Port Authorities primary project is the the overblown money pit that is “the freedom tower” & the PATH terminal. It literally sucked the PA’s credit worthiness down the rabbit whole.

      It’s a good thing that the PA has been working on airport capacity issues, but they come with complications & restrictions far beyond the perimeter rule. For example – JFK has a physical limit of 153 total gates. Now I don’t get why that cap is there, but it hinders the growth prospects of such an important gateway. At LaGuardia, as most people know the runways are short & all the terminals are antiquated & those issues are being glossed over with dreams of a people mover to Citi Field. Are the Wilponds contributing a few bucks to move this thing along? Don’t get me started on the issues with Newark since it would take me forever to type them. I think you get the picture.

  16. It seems to me that the best way to mitigate the negative impacts, yet get the benefits of a wider marketplace, would be to have a limited number of beyond perimeter exemptions, as is done at Reagan Washington National.

  17. I had no idea outdated rules like this exist. It makes more sense why there are still reasons to connect somewhere in the middle when flying from a large west coast city to the east coast.

  18. Anyone know if the feds (DOT or Congress or anyone) would have to approve this change, or can the PANYNJ do it on their own?

    If they can do it on their own, it could get done pretty fast.

    1. @jim – there’s definitely some lobbying exerted here.. I doubt it can be done solo.. it’s too intricate to have such a decision granted to a single authority.. atleast that’s what i think..

  19. The whole point of the LGA and DCA restrictions was to shift the big planes with their noise to long distance focused airports. This makes some sense. You can’t have all services from all airports. Thre are runway and capacity issues.

    PS: DCA is the only airport named after two presidents: Regan and Washington. FDR wanted to honor our first president, not the city.

    1. Of course there are runway and capacity issues, but shouldn’t the free market decide what flights go where, rather than the government?

      The runways and terminals at LGA and DCA are certainly capable of handling flights to the west coast.

      1. A flight or two? Sure. But airlines would likely shift much of their focus to trans-con flights from DCA and LGA if the perimeters were completely lifted.

        I can’t speak for LGA, but DCA can only handle 757s or smaller in any sort of numbers. DCA is also already super-congested – the airport was never built with the intent of serving as a hub or focus city, and replacing RJs with mainline transcon metal would only make the congestion worse.

        1. If congestion is the issue, then there are other ways of dealing with that. Slot restrictions can be modified, or passenger counts can be capped. However, JFK and IAD aren’t exactly uncongested anymore, so I’m not sure it matters.

    2. Except the current crop of aircraft is extremely quiet. I’ve worked at and near airports for several years now, and it’s amazing how quiet aircraft have become.

    3. These days, a 737 can go from coast to coast without any issue. That wasn’t the case back when these restrictions were first put into place.

  20. That line looks like a cold front from the northeast going southwest wardly. It even forms the cold front triangle as it extends into den. :-)

  21. This post misses a few key points.

    -International feed: AA and DL have significant intl networks out of JFK and if they draw down premium flying to western cities in favor of LGA that gives UA a big advantage.

    -EWR location: as someone who actually lives in Manhattan and as a prior management consultant flew all over the world weekly, EWR is the easiest airport for me to use, business or pleasure. If you live on the West Side of Manhattan, depending on time of day, can be half the travel time of LGA. Door-to-door from my place in Chelsea I’ve made it to EWR in just 22 minutes by car. I typically budget no more than 35 minutes. LGA I would budget an hour.

    -LGA access: LGA has crap for transit access, although an airtrain is planned for the distant future. Parking is also limited. If you increase the pax count / aircraft by say 300% moving from RJ–>757 how do these people get to the airport, where do they park, how do they leave?

    -LGA facility: truly third-world as our VP famously said, there is no physical space for longer queues and more stations for passenger check-in, security, food, waiting at gate, lounges, boarding, baggage claim. LGA would feel more third-world than ever with a surge in passengers. And what happens during irregular operations like yesterday when the DL plane slid off runway and closed the airport for hours?

    -RASM: while $ signs fill our eyes when we think of the 30 people in premium class on transcons to LA and SF, what is the quality of coach fares on those a/c? How do those stack up with east coast flights. I routinely flew from LGA to places like MEM on coach fares nearing $900 weekly. I wouldn’t assume that just because it is a smaller city fares are lower.

  22. I’m not sure I follow your first point about UA getting an advantage, what advantage would they get? Wouldn’t new nonstop service between LGA and the west coast hurt UA’s west coast nonstops from Newark?

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