See As airlines begin to alter their schedules for the coming months, they are moving away from the favored hub-and-spoke model in favor of non-stops.
Airlines Announce New Non-Stop Flights
United announced 17 new non-stop flights to Florida for the winter and holiday season. Matthew covered these routes, one of which I am greatly anticipating from Pittsburgh to Fort Myers, FL. Most of the flights originate in either Cleveland, Boston, or New York LaGuardia. As Matthew noted, Cleveland and LaGuardia are older focus cities/former hubs which make sense since the carrier has all but abandoned each in the favor of Newark, Washington Dulles, and Chicago.
JetBlue has added 30 new flights (some of which are) from non-hubs to non-hubs as well. While Mint service and other routes are a big change, I am personally focused on the flights the carrier has added from Pittsburgh; West Palm Beach (PBI), and adding back its southern hub, Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood. The latter was a route the carrier canceled and a favorite for my family because we could utilize our Chase Ultimate Rewards points using this True Blue trick as Jet Blue is a transfer partner from Chase. The carrier had dropped Fort Lauderdale from Pittsburgh where it faced competition from Spirit and Southwest. The PIT-PBI route picks up where OneJet left off after the carrier went under.
Adding non-stop flights by these two carriers, in particular, make holding Chase Ultimate Rewards cards even more valuable as both are transfer partners of the program.
Leisure, Leisure, Leisure
There is no business traffic right now. None. The airlines have all mentioned this in their earnings calls. Allegiant rightly recognized that the leisure market was the only one flying right now and that the carrier thinks this creates a unique business opportunity for them to capture former loyalists from other carriers.
Maybe United was listening.
I stated in the Allegiant post that (though I am both a United 1K and American Airlines Executive Platinum member) I fly Spirit to Florida because the flights are cheap but mostly because adding a connection doubles my transit time with little to no benefit. Sure, I can snag an upgrade (and I hope to do so on the Pittsburgh-Fort Myers route) but mostly, I just don’t want to add an extra flight to my journey. The same would be true for those in Cleveland, Boston, or New York, the latter two have far too many direct options to add a connection for leisure flyers. Flyers just won’t add a stop in Chicago or Dulles (and definitely not Houston) to go from the Northeast to the Sunshine state. If United fails to offer more convenient options, they cede that business to those that will. Thus, the 17 new routes they have added exclusively to serve the leisure market.
The hub-and-spoke model most of us have become accustomed to makes more sense for business travel and the broadest brush of trips. Business people need to be able to get to destinations all over the world. It makes sense to load planes on connections rather than flying point-to-point. However, carriers like American are abandoning smaller markets altogether. There simply is not enough traffic for the hub model to make sense.
While it isn’t logical to fly twice-daily from Boise, ID to Orlando, FL it may make enough sense to do so on a twice-weekly basis, a model that Allegiant employs Likewise, residents of Boise do not necessarily want to only fly on a Wednesday or a Sunday to Orlando so schedule restrictions at Allegiant are less attractive than the hub-and-spoke model at the major carriers. They can fill many planes from around the country through centralized points onward to Orlando.
The hub-and-spoke model breaks down when it takes far too many unprofitable flights from Boise, Reno, Omaha, and similar markets just to fill up a few planes onward to Orlando.
How Many Will Stay?
One airline has long been a fan of random non-hub O&D flights, enter: the “Delta Dartboard.” Delta has been famous for throwing a route out when they secure a business contract to see if they can fill a plane. Delta Air Lines operated a 5x weekly flight from Pittsburgh to Paris on a 757 (likely due to a corporate contract guarantee from a large company.) Delta has since discontinued that flight but oddly added an Indianapolis-Paris flight some time ago. The strategy seems to work for Delta on many routes, but their past habits indicate a willingness to try non-stop routes between non-hub cities and an equal willingness to abandon them if they don’t work out.
Just how many of the new point-to-point routes will stay is anyone’s guess. However, it’s my opinion that airlines have been more willing than ever before to stretch and bend their models. For the foreseeable future, I can neither see an airline sticking out a route that’s not making money nor abandoning those that are profitable solely to return to their hub model. While it may have been a little more difficult to make schedule banks and aircraft assignments work with planes operating out of the rest of the system, it wasn’t and isn’t impossible.
As a shareholder of multiple airlines (some that offer mostly point-to-point and some that offer hub-and-spoke), my primary focus is that profitable routes stay and that limited exploration continues to identify new routes.
I love the idea of airlines trying new things to explore where travelers are flying now, and in the case of United, will do so in the future. I also support their right to discontinue flights that no longer make sense, even if it makes it less convenient for me to travel to those destinations in the future.
What do you think? Are non-stops to non-hub destinations the new normal? Do you have some suggested routes carriers should try?