Maybe you’ve noticed I talk about Washington-Dulles Airport quite a bit. It’s my home airport, so I have a keen interest in it. When airlines start talking about increasing or decreasing service there, I’m all ears.
For example, American Airlines decided to bag service to Dulles (IAD) from Miami. United immediately announced it would start flying the route, though with only one frequency.
Now, there are comments from United Airlines President Scott Kirby about wanting to add two more “banks” to IAD.
What’s A Bank?
I’m glad you asked. The large hub and spoke airlines will frequently have a “bank” of flights that all land and take-off in a narrow band of time at their hubs. It’s thought that this method increases efficiency and makes customers happier with shorter connecting times. United currently has 4 banks at IAD. Kirby says he’s thinking about making it 6 banks. That would represent a tremendous increase in available flight options. I read two interesting pieces reflecting on this news.
First, Matthew Klint of Live and Let’s Fly, is mostly positive on the move.
And, Brett Snyder of Cranky Flier is generally negative about the prospects here.
Which One Is Right?
I’m not sure either is right or wrong here. Brett does couch his opinions with the assertion that it would be easy to unwind the additional banks and move the planes elsewhere if it doesn’t work. I’d take it a step further and say that many business travelers in the DC area are “hub-captive”, relying largely on United’s nonstop flight options. I’ll raise my hand here. It’s the primary reason I’m a United flier.
What Would Additional Banks Look Like?
There are no hard and fast rules. However, I think it’s safe to assume that 2 new banks would probably increase frequency to existing destinations. I don’t think we’ll see a bunch of new domestic lines from IAD.
United has really good coverage to some major cities. They have 7 daily flights to LAX. I’d like to see them bump up the 6 daily trips to Chicago O’Hare just a bit. After that, there are some bigger gaps:
- 2 nonstop flight to Atlanta daily
- 4 to Boson
- 3 to DFW
- 1 to Phoenix
And, on some of these routes the flight times have some big gaps for business customers. The only nonstop to Phoenix is after 5pm. While that means a full day in the office here in DC, it also forces a connection or overnight if I need to be there for a morning meeting.
More Banks Will Mean More Flights, But Not Cheaper Ones
Dulles has generally had a higher cost per passenger than some other major airports. A couple of years ago the airport agreed to a new deal with United. That included a little pot of cash that helped lower fees. But, there doesn’t appear to be any measurable growth by a low-cost carrier at IAD. Part of that is due to the passenger fees, I’m sure. Frontier has embarked on some crazy growth along with a new loyalty program. They could be a candidate for growth at IAD, but thus far haven’t shown an interest. I’m guessing that’s at least partially due to costs.
The Final Two Pennies
I still don’t see this type of expansion for United at Dulles in the next couple of years. I’d like to be wrong. There are plenty of cities that I could use more nonstop service to as a business traveler. And, there are plenty of smaller cities they don’t even service from Dulles. Two more banks just seems like a lot more capacity than I can imagine them considering.
United did roll out some new international flights earlier this week. Those were routes originating from Newark and San Francisco. Maybe if we saw some more international growth at IAD, we’d see some build-up of domestic connections to feed passengers to and from. Given that the conditions (pricing, concessions, etc) haven’t changed drastically at Dulles, I don’t see United making a big move.
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