Analysis: United Grows into Delta Hubs From the West Coast

Reported by: Vinay Bhaskara, Airchive.com Senior Business Correspondent

A United Airlines 737 - Image Credit: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Airchive.com

A United Airlines 737 – Image Credit: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Airchive.com

Lost in all of the hubbub surrounding Japan Airlines’ historic Airbus A350 order announced this morning is a very interesting pair of route additions loaded by United Airlines over the weekend into the global distribution system (GDS). From April 1st, 2014, United will be resuming twice daily flights between San Francisco and Atlanta with the 737-800, and beginning new twice daily flights between Los Angeles and Minneapolis-St. Paul with the CRJ-700. The flight schedules for these new routes is as follows:

Flight

Route

Depart

Arrive

Aircraft

Frequency

UA 034 SFO-ATL 0830 1607 738 Daily
UA 124 SFO-ATL 1600 2337 738 Daily
UA 035 ATL-SFO 0700 0916 738 Daily
UA 125 ATL-SFO 1655 1911 738 Daily
UA 5639 LAX-MSP 0840 1418 CR7 Daily
UA 5593 LAX-MSP 1805 2343 CR7 Daily
UA 5581 MSP-LAX 0600 0800 CR7 Daily
UA 5639 MSP-LAX 1600 1800 CR7 Daily

The route additions are interestingly, primarily because of the broader strategic implications. Atlanta and Minneapolis St. Paul are both fortress hubs for Delta, where Delta controls the lion’s share of local origin and destination (O&D travel). Delta runs widebody Boeing 767-300s (non -ER) almost exclusively between Atlanta and San Francisco due to volume, while Minneapolis St. Paul – Los Angeles is a sea of Boeing 757-200/300s with a few 767-300s mixed in from time to time. San Francisco – Atlanta is decently timed for connections to Asia, Hawaii, and secondary California destinations, while Minneapolis St. Paul – Los Angeles is more optimized for California and Hawaii.

These routes can be viewed as a proverbial shot across the bow of Delta, along with the recent addition of San Francisco – Indianapolis (a Northwest Airlines and now Delta stronghold). The timing of the announcement is interesting because it comes just a few days after Delta announced that it would be adding five (eventually six) daily flights between its Asian gateway at Seattle and San Francisco, a traditionally strong local market for United. More generally, over the past couple of years, American and Delta have strengthened themselves on the West Coast, traditionally United’s dominion (at least amongst legacy carriers) by growing heavily at Los Angeles and Seattle (Delta), as well as upping the ante in San Francisco in the Transcon Wars arms race. United meanwhile was struggling (and still is to some degree) to implement its merger with Continental Airlines and couldn’t really fight the erosion of its O&D dominance on the West Coast. With these new routes, it appears that United is finally striking back.

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