America: a divided society (between hubs and bases)

Image: Southwest in Vegas

Not somewhere you go to change planes: The largest airline hub/base not operated by a ‘big-6’ legacy carrier is Southwest’s at Las Vegas (which ranks 14th). The USA is now a society clearly divided between legacy airline-dominated big hubs and smaller low-cost bases (actually part-base, part-hub).

As tension mounts in the US as to whether or not the merger between Delta and Northwest goes ahead this week takes a glimpse at the major US hubs and examines how competitive the major domestic routes are. A look at the busiest hubs reveals that each of the ‘big-6’ airlines has one of the top six hubs, with Delta’s Atlanta hub some 30% larger than American’s hub at Dallas/Fort Worth.

Chart: Top 10 US airline hubs
Source: OAG Max Online for w/c 25 February 2008

Most of the ‘big-6’ airlines have a single dominant hub but Northwest’s two biggest hubs at Minneapolis/St. Paul and Detroit are very similar in size in terms of weekly seat capacity. In contrast Delta’s second biggest hub in Salt Lake City is ranked only 20th and is just a quarter of the size of Atlanta.

Southwest leads LCC hubs

The largest airline hub not operated by one of the ‘big-6′ legacy carriers is Southwest’s Las Vegas base which ranks 14th, closely followed by its Chicago Midway base which ranks 15th. AirTran’s Atlanta base ranks 17th while jetBlue’s biggest base at New York JFK ranks only 22nd, just behind Southwest’s third largest base in Phoenix.

Alaska Airlines’ presence in Seattle makes it the 19th busiest airline hub in the US. Only United has four bases in the top 20, while American and US Airways each have three. Delta, Continental, Northwest and Southwest each have two Top 20 hubs with AirTran and Alaska managing one each. A merger between Delta and Northwest would therefore give ‘Delwest’ four hubs in the top 20, the same as United.

California tops domestic routes

Image: Los Angeles JET-AGE Airport
Still #1: The Los Angeles-San Francisco route is still largest with nearly 40,000 weekly one-way seats and lots of competition with some 300 weekly departures.

Analysis of the top 15 airport pairs in the US domestic market (excluding Hawaii) reveals that the Los Angeles to San Francisco route is the largest with nearly 40,000 weekly one-way seats and some 300 weekly departures. It is also one of the most keenly contested with six airlines operating at least a daily frequency.

Top 15 US domestic airport-pairs
Source: OAG Max Online for w/c 25 February 2008

The largest duopoly routes are between Las Vegas and Phoenix (Southwest v US Airways), and between Chicago O’Hare and New York La Guardia (American v United). The top ranked monopoly route is between Dallas Love Field and Houston on which Southwest operates over 180 weekly departures generating some 25,000 weekly one-way seats.


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