A New Cranky Talk Is Live: How Airlines Choose Where to Fly

Podcast, Schedule Changes

Cranky Talk: How airlines pick their routes!

Cranky Talk is back again, and this week, we’ve put together a look at how airlines decide where to fly. Of course, they use data, but there are several tricks of the trade that you might find surprising. Dave and I put this together after speaking to former airline planners and consultants.

Thanks for the feedback on the music last week. Almost everyone who reached out hated it, so we scrapped it this time.

Download it here or listen below.

I’m pleased to once again thank this week’s sponsor, Turbulence Forecast. Almost every flight you take has turbulence, but wouldn’t you like to know how much there will be and when it will happen?  Check out turbulenceforecast.com for worldwide turbulence maps, interpretations, and a concierge forecast by email service.  You can receive a personalized turbulence forecast before your flight from the founder of the website. 

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5 comments on “A New Cranky Talk Is Live: How Airlines Choose Where to Fly

  1. I was a network planner for one of the large US carriers doing domestic network planning. I added several new routes, built the schedules for many hubs for which I was responsible, and determined frequencies, etc. we never did any of that city visiting/ walking around/ etc that you mentioned. We mostly relied on colleagues in the sales department who had access to customer travel info for corporate travel. I also worked for one of the gulf carriers in planning and added several dots to the map during my time there. At both airlines, we mostly relied on the industry and internal data sources we had, and then got airport / city information from our contacts at airports we met at route development conferences and through our contacts at the various airports we served.

    1. Jason – Thanks for sharing this. I’m guessing different airlines work very differently. The person who talked about walking around towns was at an airline that was large but I would say didn’t have a large sales force.
      But do note that he was talking about this specifically for adding new dots to a map, not new routes to an existing point.

      I think the other key, which addresses your second experience at a gulf carrier, is that this airline was in a more compact footprint. I can’t imagine traveling the world to figure out which remote city Emirates, Etihad, etc is going to fly to next. I’m sure it’s very different when those distances are involved.

      1. I put new dots on the map as well at my carrier. You even alluded to it in your chat. And a few others as well. I also, of course, added lines to existing dots. And made those lines wider. I do think that at least one major airline had people who got out into the field a bit more when looking at new dots, but in my experience we didn’t at my company.
        At my Gulf carrier, we didn’t go on big exploratory trips when deciding on new dots. But I did know people at one of the other Gulf carriers who actually did go out and visit potential destinations in delegations with ops, sales, govt affairs people when looking at new destinations. We didn’t. We just used the data we had through industry sources that we used, and spoke with airport air service development people we met at conferences as we negotiated incentives prior to launch.

  2. “Pin the route on the donkey” sounds like it would explain some airlines’ past route decisions.

    I’m surprised that average fares out of a given airport weren’t mentioned, both for airlines looking to compete on an existing route and for airlines considering adding new routes. For example, XNA (Northwest Arkansas) was (still is?) one of the most expensive airports to fly out of in terms of fares, with relatively few alternative airports within reasonable driving distance. Sure, much of that is vendors visiting Walmart (or vendor bigwigs visiting their sales offices in the area that sell to Walmart), with a bit of university traffic as well (University of Arkansas is in the area), but that also means a decent portion of people working for Walmart corporate and Walmart’s vendors who have disposable income for leisure trips. For its size, XNA also passes the “rush hour” test, as traffic there is not to be underestimated. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I was always surprised (pre-COVID) that there weren’t more routes and options for flights into XNA.

    I don’t have any affiliation with NW Arkansas, other than visiting there for business a few times, and it probably isn’t the most typical example, but nonetheless that came to mind.

    1. Kilroy – We tried to steer away from discussing the specific data they use, because a lot of that is obvious. But under data, they look at historical performance. Fare levels are a big part of that for sure.

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