As a condition of approving the US Airways/American Airlines merger, the US Department of Justice required that the airlines divest themselves of 44 sets of takeoff and landing slots at capacity-controlled Washington Reagan National Airport (DCA). “Divest” in this context means sell off to other airlines with limited slot holdings at the airport. The resulting slot auction has now been held, and Southwest Airlines won 27 slot pairs while JetBlue won 12 slot sets. The winner of the remaining five slot pairs hasn’t identified themselves yet.
I’ll talk about the impact that this has on US Airways & American Airlines soon in a separate post, but for know some thoughts on how the other side of the equation: How Southwest responds to getting 27 slots pairs at DCA. Contrary to what many people believe, Southwest is not a point-to-point carrier in the eastern U.S. They very much do have a series of non-banked hubs — Houston Hobby, Dallas Love Field, Chicago Midway, Orlando, Tampa, Nashville, Baltimore, and St. Louis which is where plus Kansas City and maybe Ft. Lauderdale the scarce DCA rights will be used to. Sorry Queen City, no Southwest to DCA for you.
Southwest now has to operate 27 flights come sometime later this year that they didn’t expected they’d have the chance to fly three months ago. Which is to say, the planes to fly those new DCA routes have to come from somewhere. As I’ve said before, at minimum that makes it less likely, other things being equal, that Southwest will add flights from here in Charlotte in the near future. All things may not be equal though, as Southwest hasn’t been doing well in Greenville/Spartanburg and one option would be to end service there to get a portion of the aircraft time needed for the additional Reagan National flights. Were that to happen, it would be a game changer (for the better over time) for Southwest here in Charlotte as well.