US domestic air travel market; over 300 routes dropped by biggest airlines in last year though Allegiant adds 13

Now the good route news: Virgin America’s San Francisco to John Wayne Orange County Airport launch on Wednesday. We’re very grateful to our journalistic colleague, Greer Wylder, for this excellent interview and news bulletin on GreersOCTV, a unit of www.greersoc.com “providing the latest in fashion, dining and trends in Orange County.”

Analysis of OAG schedule data for the US domestic market at the beginning of the summer 2009 season reveals that over 300 domestic airport-pairs have been dropped by the biggest US airlines when compared with the start of the summer season in 2008. The top 16 US domestic airlines have reduced the number of airport-pairs operated from just over 3,500 to just under 3,200, a reduction of some 9%. Leading the way with the most route reductions is Delta with 97, though new merger partner Northwest actually increased its domestic network by one.

Chart: Top 16 US domestic airlines
Source: OAG Max Online for w/c 30 March 2009 and w/c 31 March 2008, Allegiant

LCCs (with the exception of AirTran) were best able to maintain their network size. Southwest’s network grew by seven airport-pairs while jetBlue’s increased by five. Allegiant’s network increased most with a net gain of 13 new airport-pairs during the last year.

Domestic capacity down around 7%

Domestic capacity for these biggest airlines is down around 7% at the start of the summer season. All of the top 10 have reduced their seat capacity with jetBlue and Southwest down least (at just minus 3.6%) and Alaska Airlines down most at minus 10.5%. Among the smaller carriers Hawaiian is up 23% (making up for the collapse of Aloha), Allegiant is up around 20% and newcomer Virgin America is up almost 40%.

Chart: Top 16 US domestic airlines
* Allegiant figure based on growth in ATMs in March 2009
Source: OAG Max Online for w/c 30 March 2009 and w/c 31 March 2008

Midwest has seen capacity fall by almost 50% as its network has shrunk from 64 to 35 routes.

Biggest airports see only small reduction in domestic routes

A closer examination of the 20 busiest US airports for domestic traffic reveals that while 17 of them have seen a reduction in the number of domestic points served with non-stop flights only Orlando has lost more than 10 domestic services.

Chart: Top 20 US domestic airports
Source: OAG Max Online for w/c 30 March 2009 and w/c 31 March 2008, Allegiant

Ranked by most domestic destinations served non-stop Atlanta is still in the lead with 149 (down from 157 last year), followed by Denver with 137 (down five), Chicago O’Hare with 131 (down nine) and Minneapolis / St. Paul with 130 (down just one).

Three of the top 20 airports managed to increase the scope of their domestic networks by making a net gain of one route. Congratulations to Baltimore/Washington, Detroit and San Francisco on increasing the size of their domestic networks during these challenging times.

Image: Virgin America has added five daily flights to John Wayne from San Francisco
Virgin America has added five daily flights to John Wayne from San Francisco. Orange County is the ninth destination in Virgin America’s national network.
Congratulations to Baltimore/Washington, Detroit and San Francisco on increasing the size of their domestic networks during these challenging times. (Casey Rodgers/AP Images for Virgin America)

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