The Curious Case Of DC And Miami And How Airlines Compete

Look, maybe I’m the only person that finds this interesting.  But, hear me out.  I can’t quite figure out why airlines sometimes compete the way they do.  I’ve got a reasonable example.  We need a bit of history first.

Miami And Dulles Are Hubs

Occupying the role of Captain Obvious for a moment, both Miami and Washington-Dulles are hubs.  Miami is a big American Airlines hub while Dulles still remains a pretty decent-sized hub for United (over 100 destinations served from there).  These are both big airports.  Miami handles the 14th highest passenger volume in the nation.  Dulles is the 25th biggest by that measure according to 2017 stats.

American used to rule the Caribbean with the combination of their San Juan and Miami hubs.  Now, just Miami remains.  That means they funnel a bunch of traffic to connect to the Caribbean (and Mexico and Central and South America).

Conversely, the mid-Atlantic and Northeast is pretty well-served by United from Dulles.

And yet, the two airlines don’t seem to want to compete on the route.  For as long as I can recall, United has not served the Dulles-Miami route.  They’ve left it to American, who has quietly reduced capacity on the route.  American has traditionally shied away from competition.  Just see what they did at JFK.

One Airline Likes Miami (Now).  One Doesn’t

Somehow I missed this story last week.  But, it looks like United Airlines is jumping into IAD-MIA right as American is getting out.  American even has a fun comment that almost makes it sound like a positive:

“We will still continue to be the leader in seat share between DCA/IAD (Dulles) and MIA/FLL (Fort Lauderdale) when this change takes effect.”

Sure.  Just lump together two airports that are an hour away from each other on a good day.  And, another two airports that pretty much fill the same criteria.  While you’re at it, let’s treat LAX and San Diego airports the same.  And, Newark and JFK.  Oh, wait.  An airline that shall remain nameless already does that with the last pair.

United is serving it with a mainline aircraft, though their smallest, an A319.  And, American does have a ton of lift between DCA and Miami.  Anyway, I digress.

Why Now?

So, why is United Airlines adding this route now?  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m happy my home airport will still have nonstop service to one of the busiest airports in the world.  American only has two nonstop flights a day now.  Fares aren’t what I would call “low” on the route.  I would imagine United could have added a flight here a while ago.  Similarly, why is AA drawing down this route now?  They had literally no nonstop competition on the route. If the route was soft, why not drop a frequency?

Interestingly, American now only serves Dulles from 3 of their hubs (Charlotte, DFW and LAX).  They gave up the goat on ORD-IAD a loooong time ago.

See You Later, Dulles!

The Final Two Pennies

Why doesn’t AA want to service IAD?  The easy answer is “people don’t want to fly to/from Dulles”.  But, that answer is patently false.  There’s still plenty of local passengers (O&D, as the cool kids call it).  Apple and Amazon are both looking seriously at large campuses in the area.  And, traffic between the two airports can be quite bad.  National is a great airport, if you live inside the Beltway.  As you get out into Northern Virginia, nobody in their right mind thinks it’s a smart idea to fight traffic to grab a morning flight out of DCA.

Is the new United service part of Scott Kirby’s philosophy to fly to every dirt strip in the lower 48?

My crystal ball is in the shop.

The post The Curious Case Of DC And Miami And How Airlines Compete was published first on Pizza in Motion



  1. Sad to see AA drop IAD to MIA from my home airport. not that AA is well run airline or has a good loyalty program or anything but I have to go to MIA occasionally and United is the worst. After 1.1 million miles, I am boycotting United unless its the only way to go. Looks like I’ll be connecting to Miami henceforth.

  2. I see this as common sense. Miami is within the perimeter rules for DCA so why not run flights out of their hub?

    As for Amazon and Apple, they’re both looking for flights out to Seattle (Alaska and Delta own that space) and the Bay Area (AA would never run service between two UA hubs).

    That said, I would wager most traffic to south Florida is leisure. Vacationers are going to pick the cheapest option and leave from whatever airport (BWI, DCA, IAD) gives them the best price and there’s already plenty of competition on those routes with five major carriers (Big 3 + Southwest & JetBlue) running service from the DC-area.

    1. AdamL, I appreciate your comments. I disagree on a few points. During rush-hour, I’m 2 hours from DCA. I don’t live in the boonies. Well, I kinda do. But, there are a lot of us out there. 😉
      There’s a decent amount of luxury travel on the route. But, plenty of business and connecting traffic as well that could route through MIA. Instead, business folks will choose less convenient options, and likely not on AA.

      1. I don’t doubt that IAD/BWI are convenient for many people including business travelers, but there’s a reason that DCA has more PAX than IAD (and millions more domestic) and it’s because of convenience to downtown DC & Arlington.

        Anyway, for what it’s worth, AA is bringing mainline CLT service back to Dulles (in addition to LAX and DFW) so they must see some utility in the airport.

  3. If aa has dca-mia why would they need iad flight because it is not their hub… Dca is a premium airport with thick margin so I am guessing aa is just happy with less frequency with high margin. The margin on iad mia is not good to keep it and cutting it helps them to keep their monopoly power on the route. Their guess is all aa fliers go to dca and they don’t need the people on the margin because those people don’t give enough profit for aa. But aa could be wrong and if so they will start the route again

    1. Ken, that’s like saying you don’t need to serve LGA if you serve JFK. I appreciate your point of view, but there’s plenty of high spend O&D business travel out of IAD. It just goes to UA or DL.

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