Who Should Like the Perimeter Rule at Washington’s National Airport and Who Should Want It Killed

DCA - Washington/National, Delta, Government Regulation

In the first part of this story, I wrote about the renewed effort to try and kill the perimeter rule (or at least add more beyond perimeter exemptions) which restricts flying from Washington’s National Airport (DCA) to 1,250 miles (with a few exceptions). Today, I want to talk about which airlines should fall on which side of this argument. You’ll quickly see why this is a thorny issue.

Sometimes it’s easy to know what an airline will want. Delta is the perfect example, and not just because it’s already supporting the repeal effort. There is nothing for Delta to lose here with the exception of there potentially being more competition on its single daily LAX flight. That barely counts as a negative. There is so much for Delta to gain.

But what about the rest? Well, let’s start with a look at the share of departures at the airport and then we’ll work our way down the list from biggest to smallest (except Delta which was already covered).

Washington/National May 2023 Departure Share

Data via Cirium

American Airlines – Kill The Perimeter (Or Maybe Not) But Don’t Add More Slots

American is the 800-pound gorilla at National with more than half of all slots and nearly 60 percent of daily departures. Just by having all those slots, American could be considered a winner because it has the greatest ability to redirect existing slots to beyond-perimeter markets if the rule were to fall. But this is far more complicated than that.

Yes, it would enable American to serve large airports for which it has no exemptions today, like maybe Austin, Denver, Seattle, and San Francisco. If you think of DCA as a hub, then American would want to serve the biggest markets that matter. Today it can’t do that beyond the perimeter other than Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Phoenix.

There are downsides here, however. First, the obvious one is that Delta is looking to improve its situation at DCA, and that should be a red flag for American. It will mean more competition for the airline in LA at the very least. Other airlines could also invade American’s markets,especially if new slots are created.

Beyond this, if American were free to reallocate its aircraft to the most profitable markets, it would end up burning some bridges along the way. Every single flight from DCA has a politician who considers it to the most important flight in the world.

Would it be a better use of an airplane to fly an American 737 to Austin instead of a CRJ-700 to Tallahassee? No question. But that Florida delegation wouldn’t be too happy about seeing that slot repurposed. The political minefield would be a nightmare, and that’s another reason why American would want to tread carefully here.

Southwest – Keep the Perimeter (With Some Indifference) But Do Add More Slots

Southwest is a relative newcomer to DCA, but it has really taken advantage of all those merger-related slot divestitures to become the third largest carrier there. Today, Southwest has one exemption market, and that’s Austin. I’m sure it likes having the nonstop monopoly in that market and would love to see it remain a monopoly. At the same time, it has a huge hub in Baltimore, and it probably prefers — all else being equal — there being less competition on those routes from DCA thanks to the perimeter rule. But does that really matter? Probably not.

On the other hand, might it want to stretch those legs and fly to Denver from DCA? Sure it would. Maybe you’d throw Phoenix and Vegas in there as well, but those longer hauls aren’t really Southwest’s bread and butter anyway. Still, having one flight to each seems entirely reasonable.

Really, however, above all else what Southwest wants is more slots, so just killing the perimeter rule isn’t helpful. Without additional slots, this becomes far less interesting to Southwest. I would think that Southwest would be happy letting others fight this out while it looks for any angle it can find to grab more slots at the airport.

United – Keep the Perimeter (With a Side of Desperation) and Don’t Add More Slots

If there’s any airline that stands to lose big in this whole thing, it’s United. United’s hub at Dulles has done better than many give it credit for over the years, but there’s little question that it would do a whole lot worse if DCA flights could be sent to LA, San Francisco, and elsewhere beyond the perimeter without restriction.

Yes, United can still make it work, especially on the back of the large international gateway since that won’t exist at DCA no matter what. And yes, United has taken advantage of the growth out toward Dulles to be able to create a more sustainable operation even if the perimeter goes. But in the end, there is nothing to gain for United if this rule is gone. It already flies once a day to both Denver and San Francisco using exemptions. Sure, it could fly more with no perimeter or with additional exemptions, but so could other airlines. The potential gain is very minor compared to the potential loss.

While we’re at it, I’d throw Air Canada into this bucket. Not that anyone cares what Air Canada has to say in this fight, but Air Canada must know that and will presumably be happy to back up its good friend and joint venture partner United.

JetBlue – I Have No Idea

On the one hand, you have JetBlue trying to be a business airline, partnering with American. In that relationship, I have to assume JetBlue would gladly support American’s position.

On the other hand, the feds absolutely hate American and JetBlue’s partnering with it. The feds also hate JetBlue buying Spirit. If JetBlue were to support the same position that American takes, it would be another red flag in the ongoing quest by the feds to kill consolidation and partnering efforts.

JetBlue has little to gain with the perimeter going away. Today it has one beyond perimeter exemption going to San Juan, but most of the rest of its flying goes to Florida leisure destinations. (Yes, it also flies to rich people islands in the summer — Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard — along with ample Boston service which is part of its American deal.)

If the perimeter goes away, does it really want to reallocate those airplanes to the West. If it decides to put its Spirit hat on, JetBlue can challenge the big guys on transcons and bring lower fares with its Mint product. But this is not part of the alliance with American, so it would then go into direct competition on a route that would make partner American very angry.

On the other hand, additional exemptions would certainly interest JetBlue, but the airline is on the feds’ shitlist right now, so I can’t imagine it would benefit much anyway.

Lots of twists and turns here, so what should JetBlue do? It should just keep its mouth shut and let this play out.

Alaska – Keep the Perimeter And Don’t Add More Slots

Alaska only flies beyond the perimeter today using exemptions to reach its home markets. It has 2x daily to Seattle and 1x each to LA, Portland, and SFO. Might it like more in those markets? Sure, so more exemptions wouldn’t be bad… except that it would undoubtedly face more competition from other airlines in its existing markets. It’s way better off having the perimeter stay in place with the same number of slots so that it doesn’t have to face nonstop competition on any of those routes (except LA where others have the exemption today).

Frontier – Keep the Perimeter But Do Add More Slots

What I said for Alaska goes for Frontier in one sense. It has 3x daily flights, all of them going to Denver. Does it want more competition in Denver? No. Is it happy minting money on those flights? Yes. It sees no benefit from the removal of the perimeter, only pain, without more slots. But if there are additional slots created, well, then Frontier would certainly like to get in there I’m sure.

How strongly every airline feels about this remains to be seen. We obviously have Delta feeling very strongly about removing the perimeter/adding exemptions since they’ve publicly joined the fight. And United feels very strongly about keeping it. This is a political landmine that has even divided Congress in odd ways. The senators in both Maryland and Virginia — states that don’t need their senators to fly home but do have constituents impacted by noise — are strongly against this move. Others will be in favor. This isn’t a party-line issue.

In the end, this is all probably just a silly exercise anyway. Getting this done requires Congress to put it in the FAA reauthorization bill. The FAA has no head as of today, and the chances of an FAA reauthorization happening anytime soon are slim. There are far bigger issues that need to be dealt with today, and this is a distraction at best. But hey, can’t blame Delta and friends for trying.

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49 comments on “Who Should Like the Perimeter Rule at Washington’s National Airport and Who Should Want It Killed

  1. Does DCA even have more capacity available to add slots? I’m sure you could swap perimeter slots with out of perimeter slots but can the airport support adding a higher number of total slots?

    1. The short answer is no; the lobbyists are trying to argue ‘yes,’ but they’re not actually doing any sort of analysis of the airfield. They instead cite things like TSA wait times and delays compared to other airports (without noting that those other airports usually have more than one useful runway!)

      Apparently, since the new E concourse opened, DCA has regularly entered holding due to ramp congestion, which seems to be a confluence of both the changed airfield, new pushback areas, AA’s increased gauge (both with RJs and A321s, which are hogging more space) and AA’s schedule (they’re scheduling banks, clustering their arrivals and departures) and working against the actual goal of slot control, which is to manage congestion.

      If the perimeter went away, most carriers (but particularly AA) would use larger planes which would probably make all of those issues worse. The larger planes take more time to take off; require more separation, and all of that has a meaningful impact on capacity.

      The bigger issue is that slots ought to be a technical field, not one micromanaged by Congress.

      This lobbying group wants to build a political coalition here, so they are explicitly asking for slot exemptions (not just perimeter exemptions), meaning adding more slots. The logic is simple; reallocating existing slots is a zero-sum game; someone will lose access if another city gains it. So they want to make in a ‘win-win,’ which is fine in and of itself – but then the actual congestion management purpose of slot control totally loses out.

  2. Brett. Very good points in your article. Killing the perimeter rule would hurt many small cities with service to DCA. It would be a political nightmare for the airlines to cut some of the State Capitals they’re currently serving.

  3. Glad you covered how the politics angle plays into all of this. My old home airport, BTR, just got a daily flight to DCA on a CR7 where there is absolutely no demand aside from a few politicians and lobbyists, especially when you consider that MSY is only an hour away. AA absolutely would rather be flying those slots to other markets but if the perimeter rule is expanded/lifted I think it would still be difficult for them to get away from all those smaller State Capitol-DCA routes

    1. That BTR-DCA flight will be packed during weekends in the fall for LSU football games and the prices out of control.

      1. Yep, but 8ish weekends a year won’t offset the rest of the year. Whenever I fly to BTR for games I usually end up on a direct to MSY instead of dealing with a connection and flying into BTR. Those prices get out of control!

  4. Thanks for posting!
    I don’t think slots should be added in conjunction with relaxing the perimeter.
    If dca can handle incremental slots, add them. Increase competition. Hard to see how delta would add that competition but other carriers would. But adding slots with perimeter relaxation seems unrelated.
    Cranky, why do you suppose delta isn’t doing something similar at LGA? Seems like it would add legitimacy to this dca effort (I believe that would be a lobbying effort with the port authority?). If I recall, I think delta did try to relax the lga perimeter ~8 years ago but it went nowhere.

    1. Julie – I’m sure there’s a time and place for every effort. I’m certain Delta is getting behind this one now because it’s time to reauthorize the FAA. That has nothing to do with the LaGuardia issue, so it will find another time…

  5. I’m not convinced that this is that bad for UA (OK, it’s not great, but it’s not lethal to IAD)* — UA has spare slots that they’re burning on EWR and ORD that could be moved to DEN, SFO and LAX too. Among ex-perimeter D48 (+PR) routes, UA has very little exposure with only two that are exclusive to IAD and not DCA: SMF and SAT (plus seasonal HDN and BZN, we’re not counting those).

    Is DL and B6 adding flights to LAX and SFO, WN adding DEN terrible for UA? I don’t buy it: UA can backfill its IAD flights with connections to the northeast, Florida and international that DL, B6 and WN can’t, can fill DCA-west flights with connections over SFO/DEN/LAX.

    Really don’t envy AA’s political pickle, figuring out how to pull flights out of PNS and JAX and HSV without angering congresscritters.

    D48+PR destinations served by UA from IAD: AUS, DEN, LAS, LAX, PHX, PDX, SMF, SAT, SAN, SFO, SJU, SEA, plus seasonal HDN & BZN.

    *Makes me miss Smisek, he’d throw a full-on fit about this then shut down the IAD hub when he loses.

    1. The chain of events for AA is a bit complicated: one reason they’re not coming out in favor of this is precisely because they’d be implicitly saying “we’re going to cancel flights to your small city in order to fly more to bigger cities out west,” which is a losing proposition.

      However, if Congress did make the change, then AA has little to worry about – since Congress moved first.

      One bigger issue AA should worry about is angering their landlord, MWAA. Removing the perimeter (or adding more exemptions) creates all sorts of headaches for MWAA. It will mean more investment is required at DCA; it will probably mean more congestion there, too.

      MWAA’s legal mandate (given to them by Congress, of course) is to maintain DCA, but focus growth at IAD. They are charged with operating the two airports as a system. That’s the whole reason IAD exists! Because DCA is inherently limited!

  6. Great writeup Cranky. Nothing really more to add except that related to the FAA head piece, the Senate confirmation process really has become a bottleneck to basic governance

  7. Good piece – thanks for covering this issue! As a former DCA regular, and still semi-regular, its been very frustrating to see the AA consolidation. I remember at various points when DL, B6, and even NW competed (with US/AA) on routes like DCA to CHS, SAV, JAX, DSM, LAN, etc. Now it feels like if you’re going anywhere but New York, Chicago, or Boston, you’ve gotta pay AA monopoly prices (and suffer AA customer service).

    But, alas, that ship has sailed. The actual question I have for the future of DCA is with the growth of transatlantic narrow-bodies (220s, 321neos, etc.), if DCA could ever actually have flights to Western Europe. Is the bigger barrier there the customs issues, takeoff weight on the short runway, or the nuclear meltdown that would come from United?

    *Bonus question if there’s any data yet on if adding a Metro stop at Dulles (I believe it opened about 1 year ago?) has meaningfully boosted local traffic there?

    1. ” Is the bigger barrier there the customs issues, takeoff weight on the short runway, or the nuclear meltdown that would come from United?”

      All of the above.

      DCA’s customs/immigration facilities have lots of capacity – they’re just located at Dulles. There is zero reason to make expensive investments for that at DCA.

      The runway is a big constraint – even with new planes like the XLR, you’re probably looking at a weight restriction. Plus they would exacerbate capacity issues.

      And yes, United would go ballistic.

      Even if the perimeter rule were abolished completely, the prospect of international flights at DCA is essentially zero. MWAA certainly won’t build an FIS there. The only pathway for doing so would be for Congress to mandate they build one, but that seems extremely unlikely; there are lots of reasons members of Congress might want more flights to their districts, but none of that would apply to international flights. I don’t even think any of the airlines would want it.

      1. There’s always preclearance, which is how AC flies to DCA. Besides certain Canadian airports that opens up AUA, SNN, DUB and… AUH!

        1. Flights already exist to NAS and BDA. At least they used to. Both are obviously preclearance. Aer Lingus should pick up a cheap 757 for a precleared flights to Dublin!

  8. UA and IAD will be fine either way. DCA has only so much capacity. It cannot accommodate wide body aircraft and never, ever will have that capability. Sure, DCA is convenient to the capitol, the Pentagon, and the big administrative state offices. But, nearly all of the population growth is outside of the Beltway and a big percentage of that is in Virginia. IAD has become more convenient to more and more people who travel. Also, not all Federal offices (and federal contractor offices) are in the city. One heck of a lot of them are in places like Reston or Ashburn or near Tysons Corner. All of which are quite convenient to IAD.

    While I don’t think Cranky’s write up of UA’s feelings on this are wrong (in fact, I think he’s correct), the consequences of any decision regarding the perimeter rule are greatly exaggerated. IAD will always house more flights to more places – and all international flights. And, it will always have the greatest potential for growth – which is awesome for UA. DCA is basically maxed, we’re just talking about reshuffling the deck here.

    1. All true. Plus United has more than a few cards to play with MWAA considering they’ve spent tens of billions of dollars on every other DCA and IAD capital project (including the entire metro silver line expansion, yes MWAA managed construction of the whole line, not just the Dulles station) while the near entirety of the United IAD flight operations are housed in the decrepit “interim terminal” which is now in it’s FIFTH DECADE!

      1. This brings up a great point – UA really needs to prioritize improvements to their accommodations at IAD before fretting about the perimeter rule. When I was a kid, I sure recall how IAD was a showplace of modern architecture and technology and DCA was a crappy old bus station with DC-9s and prop planes. Now the reverse is true – and that needs to change whether the perimeter rule stays or goes.

  9. The DCA and LGA perimeter restrictions are, at their core, limits on the ability of the market to function in the best way for consumers. Any time there is a question of what companies win and lose by imposing market restrictions, the loser is the consumer.
    Sure, anyone can see what companies will win and lose by relaxing the DCA perimeter because it is obvious that IAD is in a less favorable location to the largest concentration of premium travel demand in the Washington area. IAD is subsidized by DCA which benefits UA’s hub.
    There is no valid argument in saying that AA will sacrifice flights to cities like TLH in order to add a flight that is currently outside the perimeter such as to SAN. AA has more than enough slots that they can preserve the politically sensitive flights while starting new outside the perimeter flights. AA will reduce the number of flights to cities that are inside the current perimeter and are not politically sensitive – of which there are many flights.
    The only real restriction is preserving the physical limits of the airport but airlines like WN only fly mainline jets so there is no physical difference in flying to Dallas or Phoenix. AA physically could not accommodate an all mainline operation but the chances are that DL and UA probably could significantly reduce the number of regional jets in favor of mainline aircraft.

    The proposal – sponsored by Delta or not – is pro-consumer. Anyone that tries to protect the status quo which limits market access is really trying to protect the entrenched interests of a minority number of companies that are not really interested in maximizing consumer benefit in order to protect their own self interests.

    1. Consumers aren’t the only stakeholders.

      “There is no valid argument in saying that AA will sacrifice flights to cities like TLH in order to add a flight that is currently outside the perimeter such as to SAN.”


      If the idea is to eliminate the perimeter rule, then this argument is not only valid, but completely true. Slots will not go away at DCA. If you are adding new flights to new places, then old flights to old places will get cancelled. This is a mathematical fact.

      You can argue all you want that AA will only cut flights from places that aren’t ‘politically sensitive,’ but this needs to pass Congress: no airport wants to lose their flight to DCA; all of them will call their Senators and Reps to complain about it.

      The reason Delta and others are proposing slot exemptions is to avoid this issue. But DCA is already having operational issues as it is. Slot exemptions are a bad idea and defeat the whole purpose of slots in the first place. Increasing the share of mainline jets at DCA will also bump up against those physical limits – the larger jets need more runway time and more separation for wake turbulence. Combine that with the silly idea of adding more slot exemptions and the fact that DCA already has bad ramp congestion and has to enter holding patterns even in good weather – that doesn’t sound particularly consumer-friendly to me!

  10. AA would prefer the perimeter remain because they face no competition on most of their DCA flying. They would be forced (not by choice) to pull these monopoly markets and add more transcon which woul not be as beneficial with more competition if the perimeter went away. AA should be the happiest with status quo.

    B6 would love to add more DCASJU capacity (top 5 market in their network), deploy Mint to LAX and SFO, and pull some of the average/below average short haul flying out of DCA.

    I agree with the UA assessment. The value proposition of IAD disappears if there’s more transcon service from DCA.

    AS has the best moat around DCA, flying with no competition to SEA, and PDX and not nearly enough competition to LAX/SFO.

    1. Delta is not asking for and won’t receive elimination of all perimeter restrictions. But there are many markets like DCA to JAX where AA operates 4 or more flights per day, some of which are on regional jets. Operating 3 flights to JAX on larger aircraft and adding one flight that is outside the current perimeter does not add slots but uses the slots more efficiently including by adding more cities esp in the west that today do not have nonstop service to DCA.

      DCA is congested at times because AA operates a tightly banked hub operation. They would generate far more revenue by flying larger planes to more destinations and that is true of every airline that serves DCA.

      The only losers in the process of relaxing slot restrictions are those that are vested in the current system that limits consumer choice at DCA

      Everyone gains by increasing the size of aircraft at DCA and adding destinations that consumers want but cannot access nonstop from DCA right now

      1. Great idea. I think American should change their DCA-JAX service as you suggest on the very same day that DL changes those 4 daily CRJs to CVG to 3 flights on “larger aircraft.”

        1. I fully expect that Delta will do exactly that? You do realize that Delta is reducing their JFK and LGA service so they can start BNA MCO and MIA? This request for changing slot rules is obviously to add markets outside of the perimeter

          1. So then they must be upgauging LGA and JFK flights to make up for the loss of seats? Or running larger planes to the new destinations?

            You wrote:
            “Everyone gains by increasing the size of aircraft at DCA and adding destinations that consumers want but cannot access nonstop from DCA right now”

            Since all three cities are currently served nonstop by multiple airlines, if DL isn’t upgauging, they’re just moving planes around and failing to accomplish either of the goals you stated above.

            1. look at the schedules and you will see that Delta has filed and they are increasing the number of seats through upgauging.

              The free market is not based on “airline X already serves market XYZ so you don’t need to” – that is not the way the free market works

            2. I blame myself for engaging in a “debate” with somebody who thinks service at a slot controlled airport has anything to do with free markets.

              Perhaps Delta’s next round of new DCA service will actually “add destinations that consumers want but cannot access nonstop from DCA right now.”

            3. Tim believes in the consumer until you change the topic to “new airports in Atlanta…”
              In which case the collusion between the city of Atlanta and Delta to buy land around every Atlanta airport within 80 miles and create fake “concerned citizens” lobbying groups is completely justifiable and in the consumer interest. :)

              But… aside from that, pro consumer…. Unless it’s the largest metro area in the US without a secondary airport and the corruption to prevent one that delta actively funds…

            4. MAX,
              the community where the proposed 2nd airport would be built does not want commercial service. You can believe all you want that Delta was behind limiting service to just ATL but actual voting results from the Georgia Secretary of State show that the people of Paulding County don’t want a commercial airport in their county. The same thing has happened in multiple other Georgia counties so I am not sure why you think the latest is a great conspiracy

              increased airport access IS pro-consumer. And I simply have to ask why you or anyone else would be opposed to relaxing perimeter restrictions

          2. Tim, if you’re going to argue that the “the people of Paulding County don’t want a commercial airport in their county,” and use NIMBY community opposition to justify not building/expanding airports or flights, you should also acknowledge that the people who live near/around DCA don’t want additional flights (or larger planes) from DCA, and take the position that DCA should not have its perimeter exemptions or slots increased.

            It’s very similar logic.

  11. I would imagine AA bringing 321XLR to LHR – and even perhaps MAD/CDG/BRU – as another upside of the flexibility.

    1. Never gonna happen. There simply isn’t enough runway at DCA for an A321XLR to cross the Atlantic from there. Such an aircraft with enough fuel for the journey would require more runway length than there is. Nor are there customs/immigration facilities at DCA.

  12. No additional slots should be provided given that DCA has been subject to ATC ground stops because of airfield congestion due (presumably) to the addition of Concourse E.

    Not sure why that has changed things so much other than the obvious, that the planes are now gathered in one location instead of spread out among various ground stands. Hopefully this was considered when designing the concourse and MWAA, AA and the FAA can figure out a way to run this operation without needing to go to the extreme measure of needing ATC ground stops.

  13. I agree with those who say, whatever happens, DCA should not add slots.

    Lost in the sauce here is that National is not a particularly large airport. With 59 gates, it’s less than half the size of Dulles, smaller than LaGuardia and only slightly larger than Chicago’s Midway. Its three runways are relatively short for a major airport, and aircraft are always waiting in line to use them.

    Politicians who like National’s convenience might be a valid argument (for them)… but the suggestion that flights to state capitals are sacrosanct is a red herring. I guarantee you that representatives and senators from Florida aren’t all crowding into a flight to Tallahassee. NOBODY goes to Tallahassee if they don’t have to. They’re taking the best flights they can to Miami, Tampa, Orlando and Jacksonville. The same with politicians returning to Illinois, Texas, Tennessee and Idaho. And, in reality, IAD and BWI, while not in the shadow of the Jefferson Memorial, are still quite accessible.

    I don’t care one way or the other about any airport’s perimeter rule. But I doubt any airport that has one has room for additional flights or passengers.

    1. Having lived in Tallahassee from age 5 until graduating high school and paroling myself, I actually laughed out loud reading your comment and couldn’t agree more.

        1. Some of those clowns in the JAX area even own sports teams in “Du-valllllllllllll ! County”, whether they live there or not. ;-)

  14. There’s no credible evidence or valid argument that conclusively proves that perimeter rules or other airport restriction automatically helps or harms consumers. In many ways, slots and perimeter rules are no different than local airports that allow hub airlines to build up fortress hubs that garner 75+% market shares. Arbitrarily adding or restricting slots at DCA for minority carriers essentially has the same net effect as a governmental entity (which most U.S. airports are) forcing a fortress hub airline to divest gates. Both parcel out the available capacity in some manner. Taking things to extremes to make the point, maybe the DOT should mandate that no single airline can have more than a 33.33% market share, measures in ASMs, at any given airport. That would probably be very hard to properly administer to the letter.

    All of DCA;s carriers are doing what they believe is in their own best interests. Last time I checked, that isn’t a crime. The First Amendment reads in part, “Congress shall make no law … abridging … the right of the people … to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” That’s what Delta and the others in its coalition are doing. That’s also what the other airlines at DCA are doing or will do. Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution explicitly gives Congress the power … “To regulate commerce among the several states …” Since airlines tend to engage in interstate commerce, the federal government has the explicit power to regulate them. The Constitution doesn’t specify how that’s to be done.

  15. Metro’s. Silver Line to IAD opened in November 2022. It is a 55 minute ride from MetroCenter in downtown DC and does not require a change of trains. It should make IAD more easily accessed from DC

  16. I think the impact this would have on IAD and United’s hub there is a bit overblown. Pre-2012 United would have fought desperately tooth and nail, but IAD for them today is more than their only hope of having a foothold in the East Coast, or a secondary hub to Newark. They have also simultaneously become *much* less dependent on it with EWR in the mix.

    DCA is a politically important, lucrative, and convenient postage stamp. With short runways and very limited airspace corridors and gate space, the airport’s ability to scale up transcon capacity to match IAD is limited, and any real long haul offering is impossible. The 737-900ER and MAX 9 don’t seem to be able to make transcons – UA has deployed either 737-800s or 757-300s to SFO and AS has used either A321neos or 737-800s. At best, I think eliminating the perimeter would allow for a few more high-yielding frequencies, but there will still be a sizeable portion of traffic that won’t move from IAD.

    Dulles is important to the region and the country in its own right, and plays a role that DCA cannot compete with. For United, it’s still the best place to push Transatlantic connections through efficiently even if the C/D concourse sucks, and they and Star Alliance enjoy the lion’s share of long haul traffic into the DC area. There are few other airports in the country that have the mix of robust local demand to support long haul destinations beyond a few American point-of-sale summer seasonal leisure spots like FCO/CDG/LHR (unlike the likes of CLT/PHL/MSP/DTW and to a lesser extent ATL/DFW) and the gate space and runway configuration to not be chronically plagued by congestion (unlike basically the entire rest of the northeast and ORD). As others have said, IAD is also becoming a more attractive domestic option with Northern Virginia growth as well as the metro silver line.

  17. Bethesda resident here. Nearly equidistant to DCA, IAD, and BWI (depending on traffic–usually a bit longer to BWI). A few thoughts:

    -Don’t underestimate the anger over the noise. I’m in Bethesda along the river and thus nearly under the DCA flight path. We knew this when we moved here (so not complaining!), but I have plenty of neighbors–affluent lawyers–itching for a fight. Among other reasons, it’s why Sen. Van Hollen, a native of Montgomery County, is opposing to killing the perimeter rule (and inviting in larger airplanes to DCA).

    -DCA > IAD if both offer nonstop flights. About the same amount of time for me to get to both, but DCA is such an easier to manage airport once you get there. No people-movers. No subways. Walk through security and right to your gate. That said, I go to DEN and SFO a few times a year. Despite my preference for DCA, I often find myself at IAD because the flights are cheaper. I have a lot of UA miles so IAD works for me, but UA would also get me to DEN or SFO from DCA.

    -The Silver Line makes IAD more accessible but mostly for those for whom it was already accessible (i.e., Northern Virginia). Metro is, shall we say, not the best run public transportation in the country, and my sense is very few people from the city are taking the Silver Line out to IAD. It’s mostly the tech/defense contractor folks in Tyson’s/Reston/Herndon who can easily jump on the train from work. If they weren’t taking the train to Dulles, they’d be taking an Uber to Dulles. Put differently, I don’t think the Silver Line has moved many former DCA fliers to be more eager to fly out of IAD.

    Not sure what that all adds up to, but I suppose my point is that there are relatively micro-level DC metro area dynamics at play here in addition to the national airline dynamics.

  18. As a frequent high status leisure flyer our of all three airports, I am disgusted to learn the my flight choices are limited by some smarter-than-thou Hill intern gerrymandering flight restrictions. Silly me, I thought that the short runways physically limited DCA, not Noth Korean styled politics. I read that LAX as well as Canada and the Caribbean already are served. Why not Western Europe? TSA just built a humongous new space at DCA.

    I am disgusted. If I want to ride Metro an hour and a half to Dulles, that should be my choice. Travelers to close in cities can take Amtrak, just like the train is a preferred choice over some short flights in Europe.

    I don’t know if I feel cranky or am just disgusted with the good little communist comments here.

  19. DCA needs a second longer runway built on the river. This would allow politicians to maintain their destinations and facilitate growth beyond the perimeter.

  20. Let’s cut to the chase and deal with the root cause — Congress spends too much time going back and forth to their home districts. We should limit their trips as follows:

    – For House members, 1 trip home per month – For Senate members, 1 trip home per quarter (4/year)

    They claim they need to do it to meet constituents — well, the pandemic has shown that Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Webex calls work for that just fine. My Congressperson refuses to meet with me in person for even 15 minutes!!

    They need to stay in DC and work doing the country’s business. That is what they were elected for!!

    1. I drank the pandemic lock-down kool-aid for two weeks. Two weeks of my patriotic duty. I’ve done my time. Perimeter rules were made to be broken, I daresay. I don’t want to live the rest of my life in the basement, on lockdown, or told where to fly by gerrrymandering holier-than-thou Hill interns. Let the politicians ride quasi-government Amtrak to visit their old voters at home.

      Yes, this is all a silly exercise; but, at least this flier blog, like too few others, speaketh the truth about political corruption at DCA and IAD, and by-the-way, the outlier, BWI.

  21. Priority should be placed on granting DCA slot exemptions to airports serving state capitals that lie outside the perimeter limit (where passenger demand justifies doing so). Cap-to-Cap nonstop link. This includes SMF and ABQ. Based on passenger demand, SAN and SAT deserve a DCA flight each.

    DOT did a great disservice when they reallocated a bunch of slots to LCCs and opened the floodgates for additional capacity on existing intra-perimeter markets, resulting in DCA overcrowding.

    I could see the following as logical, commercially viable markets that would serve the public and political interests in any further expansion of DCA extra-perimeter slots:

    DCA-SEA (DL, 1 r/t)
    DCA-SMF (AA, AS, HA or MX, 1 r/t) *HA on a HNL-SMF-DCA, v.v. routing
    DCA-SFO (UA, 2nd r/t)
    DCA-SAN (AA or AS, 1 r/t)
    DCA-LAS (WN, 1 r/t (allowing AA to shift existing DCA-LAS to other city)
    DCA-PHX (WN, 2 r/t)
    DCA-SLC (DL, 2nd r/t)
    DCA-DEN (UA, 2nd r/t, WN 2 r/t’s)
    DCA-ABQ (WN, 1 r/t)
    DCA-SAT (WN, 1 r/t)
    DCA-AUS (AA, 1 r/t)

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Cranky Flier