Is United Airlines on the brink of a massive expansion at Washington Dulles International Airport? United CEO Scott Kirby dropped a major hint this week.
Washington Dulles Expansion Hinted By United Airlines CEO
Speaking in Denver on CNBC’s Squawk Box ahead on Tuesday, Kirby–seemingly off-handedly–remarked that the number of departure banks at Washington Dulles would grow from four to seven. Flight banks typically occur at hub airports and are characterized by several flights arriving and departing within a short period of time. The goal is to minimize connection time for connecting passengers, which may make purchasing tickets relatively more attractive.
Flight banks are often reflected by a flurry of activity and passengers during the peak time (for about 90 minutes) and almost a ghost-town-like feel during the valleys between banks.
Currently, United utilizes four flight banks at Washington Dulles: morning, midday, late afternoon/early evening, and late evening. But Kirby hinted that number will grow to seven:
“We’ve got a big expansion going on at Washington Dulles. A lot of the growth, particularly in a market like Dulles, is going to occur in the off-peak. Instead of having four banks a day, we’ll have seven.”
Four Reasons We Are Likely To See A United Expansion At IAD
Seven flight banks would represent a massive expansion at IAD. And yet there are four indicators suggesting this was not just mere puffery from Kirby. First, Newark’s Liberty International Airport is crowded and United has already cut back flights at Newark in an effort to improve operations. By focusing on local traffic (called origin and destination or O&D travel) in Newark, United can improve operations and potentially improve margins.
Dulles has both the real estate and runway space for growth and its infrastructure is well-suited to handle regional jet operations connecting the mid-Atlantic region to New England and smaller Midwest or Southern cities. In short, passengers connecting to smaller cities could be directed through Dulles, leaving Newark to handle mainline service to larger destinations.
Second, it does now appear that Washington Dulles will move forward with its long-awaited terminal infrastructure update. United is still using “temporary” concourses in C & D (built in the 1980s before I was born…), which include low ceilings and generally feels very dungeon-like. While project completion may be years away, a new state-of-the-art new terminal would instantly make Dulles a much more desirable hub for connections (though I would still argue it is the best United hub for international connections)
> Read More: Why I Love International Connections at Washington Dulles
Third, United is opposing the lifting of the perimeter rule at Washington National Airport (DCA), but is likely going to lose. The perimeter rule at National Airport, which prohibits long-distance flights with some exceptions, was originally intended to protect Washington Dulles Airport. Such protection is no longer reasonably needed, but the lifting of the perimeter rule would force United to more fiercely compete not just at DCA, but at IAD.
Finally, the Metro Silver Line now runs all the way to Washington Dulles. The ability to reasonably, cheaply, and efficiently reach IAD by train makes the airport much more attractive for regional flyers.
Kirby let slip that United will nearly double the number of flight banks it offers at Washington Dulles. If you are wondering where all those new aircraft that United is taking delivery of will be going, I think we have a fairly good indicator here.
image: Joe Ravi
They probably would want to increase the number of nap rooms in the Polaris lounge as well. Every time I check the nap rooms out, they’re always full especially before the evening TATL flights.
While they’re at it they can finally install an underground walkway or train to replace those ridiculous tank-like busses.
Like the current underground train that runs between the terminals? Or in the case of C/D it actually runs past the existing terminal to where the replacement concourse/terminal is allegedly going to be built.
What’s wrong with the train that already exists and has been in use for years? Ah, perhaps you have been misinformed…again.
Hard to imagine all of those additional flights out of current C/D.
I don’t think it’s a problem during slow periods. But during rush hour, NFW.
I imagine many of these will be regional jet flights to smaller airports…attempting to compete with AA at DCA. It’s a tough sell to those in the district though. But NoVa towards Dulles is growing so fast and truly exploding in population, s a market all its own now in reality.
There is also a possibility of seeing more flights to Asia and South America. South America especially has tremendous potential for Dulles. More Asian flights would also fit in well with the less busy times at Dulles and to fit the new banks.
It never ceases to amaze me that this terminal has not just collapsed over the years. It was truly never made for this kind of churning for 30+years. Given I originate in DC it is truly hell. I understand the short distances though and quick connections make it attractive to connecting passengers.
You need mainline jets to feed those regional planes. It won’t be solely based on o&d. It’s going to be both.
Yes, did you read my comment entirely or just the first two sentences. I said there are great opportunities for Asia and South America markets to be added.
With 700 mainline aircraft deliveries, I think most growth will be mainline, and not at the expense of other hubs.
Everyone complains about IAD’s distance. And sure, if you live in the district its farther (though 40 mins from NW DC vs 15 to DCA isn’t that big of a difference. United got lucky in that the Dulles Tech Corridor around 267 is one of the fastest growing and richest places in the entire country. If they capitalize on that they will be fine.
@ Noah, it’s the incredible traffic and commuter congestion that makes the travel time long and unreliable. My home 20 miles from Dulles, one time was a three hour ride. The metro (red line) connection is over an hour and no picnic with any sort of bag.
I know I’m in the minority but I really like IAD. I actually prefer it to the Southwest madness at BWI. There is never a line to check in at United Priority. Never a line at PreCheck. From the garage I’m usually in a lounge in less than 15 minutes including the long walk. Priority Pass and AMEX give me access to 5 lounges and one restaurant. Yes C/D is disaster but I only spend a few minutes there. I stay in A/B until my flight is about to start boarding. And I’m definitely in the minority in enjoying the moon buggy rides. Not many other places where you get an up close look at so many different planes and airlines. For me the one thing it really lacks is parking, on and off site. The dozens of people now using the Metro are not going help with that very much.
Fun topic for those of us who live in NoVA! It’s a pity that the silver line has 2 tracks instead of 3, because then an express train would have significantly shortened the travel time from DC down from 45 to 30 minutes instead and also made it more reliable for irregular operations/track repair.
Perhaps someone can weigh in on why the USA, or a single USA airport, doesn’t try setting up what most countries have with visa free transit zones. It would significantly increase international traffic at Dulles in particular if people didn’t have to deal with the scenario we saw with “medicine for goat” in the film Terminal. Going through passport control from transit requires an additional hour or more of transit time along with visa headaches.
Regarding the Dulles metro area and high tech: it’s a suburban wasteland similar to silicon valley but hey, there’s a lot of traffic for dulles for people who will go immediately home or to a meeting in Reston, Herndon, or Chantilly without necessarily setting foot in DC.
For the Metro to have significant impact, an express service from downtown would be needed. However, based on the current configuration , this may not be possible.
Might be better to continue the line further north to capture more neighborhoods.
If UAL does add service at IAD and increase connecting flight banks to seven, this will put pressure at AA hub at nearby PHL. Competition is always good for consumers.
AA has already shrunk the PHL hub and will continue to do so. Same with ORD. Same with NYC. Same with LAX. The list goes on. Their entire strategy is to shrink, in what they claim is a way to “maximize profitability” but in reality they’re just handing market share to UA on a golden platter.
“Such protection is no longer reasonably needed”
Agree. Of course MWAA and Virginia politicians are going to protect United’s hub at Dulles, although based on this particular article it doesn’t appear to be in jeopardy. If it were to be in jeopardy, as a Northern Virginian I would expect my politicians protect United’s hub at Dulles over placating a few politicians who want direct DCA connections to their hometowns. This should be a local decision just as they would expect of their hometown airports. Assuming the perimeter rule is expanded, National is already cramped and appears to be at capacity so any new long distance flights is going to mean reduced connections to smaller airports, so perhaps United would pick those up at Dulles?
Hot Off the Press – “DC-area lawmakers unite to oppose bill that would add more daily flights at Reagan National”. This just happened and seems to answer you question.
Ooh, nice timing…
Great to hear they’re opposing adding more DCA flights.
DL should stop trying to win legal battles with UA. They know they’re glory days are ending and UA is taking over, and now they’re just trying to do stupid things like this, or withhold HND slots from UA. They aren’t going to win any of these.
IAD has (By far) the most potential for growth of any airport in the region. And no, it’s that not that “far away”. People used to whine about that back in the 1960s and 1970s. Yeah, it was farther out than most people lived back then. Not anymore. Now, it’s only far if you live on the opposite side of the beltway – in which case you’d use BWI anyway. From the weathier parts of DC and the suburbs, IAD is fine. And it has tons of room for growth. It would be a sizable hub for UA if they’re so inclined.
I don’t think the perimeter rule will be relaxed. It’s not in MWAA’s interest to do so as it will continue to undermine IAD. Also, the markets that will likely lose service are the single-daily RJs that exist to serve Senators and Representatives… expect fierce political opposition there.
Hopefully, the future construction will allow all United flights to be under one building. Not like currently where most UA flights are at C/D but some express flights are out of A. I do not want to see IAD become like EWR where UA flights are split between multiple different buildings
Expanding IAD would be tailor made to optimize UA’s CR550’s which were just getting started when Covid hit and have never really been fleshed out. There’s no reason for someone to fly from MHT to EWR to RIC midday on CR550’s and take a precious slot in EWR. That slot in EWR could better be used to add an additional flight to BOS, for example.
It makes total sense to build up IAD. EWR is more or less maxed out, sure you can put bigger planes at EWR, but it terms of gate and runway space there isn’t much more expansion room there.
IAD, on the other hand, has tons of room for expansion. The focus will be on trying to funnel more connecting passengers through IAD, while EWR is more focused on O&D. Now that doesn’t mean EWR won’t have connecting traffic, or that IAD doesn’t have O&D traffic, there will obviously both and each airport, but right now way more connecting traffic is being funneled through EWR, and that will start to be moved over to IAD.
I live in NW DC… Dulles is an amazing airport. Saarinen was a master architect. That being said, the reason for the perimeter around DCA is only partially about IAD. https://thepointsguy.com/news/why-does-washingtons-reagan-national-airport-have-a-perimeter/
I have no issue with UA building up Dulles. It makes a lot of sense, generally. But MWAA should stop subsidizing Dulles via DCA. If United wants to build up Dulles, they absolutely should, but not in a fake financial world where their costs are lower than they should be due to DCA. Dulles is the closest thing to a SE hub United has and it can do a lot of what CLT does and it can do many things better given local international demand that DCA can’t do. But it definitely won’t have ATL or CLT’s low cost infrastructure or, rather, it shouldn’t have it artificially from another airport where a rival is more dominant.
“Third, United is opposing the lifting of the perimeter rule at Washington National Airport (DCA), but is likely going to lose. ”
I do have to say that this line surprised me. I just haven’t seen much to suggest the DCA perimeter is going to go away. At best, DL wants more perimeter slots, not for the perimeter to go away but even that seems unlikely to me.
Would like to see IAD-HVN flights. Avelo at HVN has been beyond what anyone thought would happen. HVN needs a hub and spoke carrier to fill in the gaps, three E-175’s could work well.