United Airlines is returning to Fresno, California with a curious new route.
United will run mainline a 737-800 on the 158-mile journey between San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and Fresno Yosemite International Airport (FAT).
Starting on August 15, 2017, a late-night 737 will travel from SFO to FAT then return early the following morning:
Other flights will remain a mix of CRJ-200 (50-seat) and EMB-175 (76-seat) jets.
I think this flight will be a boon to Bay Area commuters, not the least of which will be many United employees (one of which I know) who can pass ride to work.
But why? What is the point of this new route?
First, it bolsters President Scott Kirby’s long-term plan to boost domestic flying. Second, it may be the opening salvo of a battle with Alaska Airlines. The merged Alaska – Virign America will be a powerhouse in California and Alaska’s recent expansion in California threatens a profitable intra-CA route network for United. This equipment upguage could be a strategy to scare off Alaska with a huge increase in capacity. Third, landing fees are presumably much cheaper in FAT than SFO. I doubt that is a primary motivator, but it does represent an additional benefit.
I wonder how FAs will work this route. Working a late night flight to FAT than an early flight back to SFO would be painful. Even if legal under FAA rules, who would want to put themselves through that. With flight time only an hour that is not a lot of duty time unless FAs would be paid of sleeping in an airport hotel overnight.
Let’s see if this new mainline route sticks around and if Alaska will respond with its own increase in service to Fresno.