United Airlines dominates San Francisco, having nearly five times more weekly seats than #2 carrier Delta Air Lines; Will drop JFK in October

United Airlines San Francisco

United Airlines dominates the skyline over the former Alcatraz Island prison just like it does over the fellow 39 airline inmates of San Francisco Airport. But with the airline having 44% of the overall seat capacity from the airport this summer, will any of the other 39 be able to escape the United force and catch up with the Star Alliance carrier?

United Airlines is the world’s second biggest carrier in terms of seat capacity available this summer, just behind one of its major North American rivals, Delta Air Lines, but ahead of Southwest Airlines and American Airlines. It is expected though that United will fall to third position once the American Airlines and US Airways merger is finally completed towards the end of 2015. However at San Francisco, United is the major player, offering nearly five times more weekly seat capacity then Delta. This summer, the Star Alliance member will offer 276,811 weekly seats (looking at the week commencing 10 August 2015), and will offer services to 85 non-stop destinations from its California hub, ranging from small regional routes such as North Bend in Oregon, to major long-haul routes including London Heathrow, Shanghai and Sydney. United will accommodate 50% of traffic movements at San Francisco in S15, along with 44% of the 630,000 weekly seats on offer by scheduled carriers. With second carrier Delta only taking a seat capacity share of 8.9%, we can clearly see United’s domination at San Francisco.

Chart - Top 12 airlines at San Francisco Weekly departing seats (Number of destinations served)

Source: OAG Schedules Analyser for w/c 10 August 2015.

Capacity has been declining since 2012, JFK ending in October

While United has been steady in its growth at San Francisco, especially in terms of weekly flights it operates, the carrier now offers 21 more destinations than it did 10 years ago, a rise of 25%. However analysis for 2015 shows that weekly departures in August have reduced by 11% since its peak of 2,270 three years ago. The 2012 peak is most likely the result of the merger between Continental Airlines and United Airlines which took place in 2010, with the operations of the merged carrier being gradually rationalised. Since before the merger however, United’s growth at the California hub had fluctuated, with analysis showing a rise of 5.3% in weekly departures from 2005 to 2007, before declining 5.4% to 1,788 weekly departures in 2009, the airline’s smallest summer operation at San Francisco during the 10-year time period being analysed.

Chart - United Airlines at San Francisco 2005-2015 Weekly departures and non-stop destinations in summer

Source: OAG Schedules Analyser for second week of August 2005 to August 2015.

In 2005, the average weekly frequency of United’s routes out of San Francisco was 27.9, while in 2015 the number has fallen to an average of 24. The most recent route launch for the airline from San Francisco was Tokyo Haneda (26 October 2014), where the carrier operates a daily service in competition with Japan Airlines. Just before the one-year anniversary of services to Tokyo Haneda, United will be ending its New York JFK operations, a decision by the airline that will see it lose its 10th biggest route in terms of ASKs from San Francisco. The carrier has decided to move its JFK operations to New York Newark Airport, one of United’s core hubs. The move will see the introduction of the airline’s ‘Premium Service’ on its San Francisco – Newark route, and an increase in services to 17 daily flights, up from the current 15 daily.

New York Newark leads way in ASKs

In terms of ASKs, with a total of 70.43 million, the sector between San Francisco and New York Newark is United’s number one route out of the 1,000+ sectors it operates globally, while its services to Chicago O’Hare from the Californian hub ranks third on this list. Of the airline’s top 12 routes out of San Francisco, five are to international destinations (highlighted in light green). Only three of the routes in the top 12 ASKs also form part of the airline’s top 12 routes in terms of frequency. These are Chicago and New York Newark, taking the top two spots, and Houston Intercontinental, in fifth. Although services to Los Angeles are the third most frequently flown route, with an average 13.4 daily departures, with the sector only being 543-Kilometres, it is only ranked 32nd in terms of ASKs out of San Francisco for United.

Chart - Top 12 United Airlines routes at SFO by ASKs Weekly one-way ASKs (millions)

Source: OAG Schedules Analyser for w/c 10 August 2015.


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