Going long at DCA

Washington, DC‘s National Airport is one of the "lucky few" airports in the country where the government has limited destinations which can be served. The so-called "perimeter rule" keeps the long-haul flights out at Dulles for the most part, but there are a few exceptions to rule and those are coveted by the airlines. As part of the most recent FAA budget authorization bill Congress has added a few perimeter exceptions to the pool at DCA and now airlines are scrambling to grab those slots. The filing deadline was yesterday, and here’s what the proposals look like.

New Entrants

The slots are split into two pools, one for legacy carriers and one for new entrants. In the new entrants category six carriers – JetBlue, Virgin America, Southwest, Air Canada, Frontier and Alaska Airlines have applied.


Alaska Airlines is going big with their application, hoping to offer transcon service from both their Portland, OR hub as well as San Diego. Virgin America is also hoping for hub service from San Francisco. Southwest is aiming to provide service to Austin, TX, with onward connections to San Diego and JetBlue has applied to serve both Austin and San Juan. Air Canada is hoping for Vancouver service and Frontier is looking to serve Colorado Springs.

There is some interesting overlap with the routes being requested and it seems somewhat unlikely that the DoT is going to approve such applications so perhaps the final approval will look something like this:


Legacy Carriers

For the legacy carriers the access to beyond perimeter slots comes with a slightly higher price, as they have to give up service to a destination inside the perimeter to get the new service. On the plus side, the route authorities are more or less guaranteed given that condition so the DoT has less work to do there. Of the eligible carriers, Delta, United Airlines and American Airlines all made their intentions known a couple weeks ago, with service to their Salt Lake City, San Francisco and Los Angeles hubs, respectively. Apparently US Airways has decided to not apply for an additional beyond perimeter slot. They already have service to Phoenix and Las Vegas but it is still somewhat surprising that they haven’t tried for more.



The new routes should be interesting to watch, especially with the potential for competition on the LAX and SFO routes.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. “Apparently US Airways has decided to not apply for an additional beyond perimeter slot. They already have service to Phoenix and Las Vegas but it is still somewhat surprising that they haven’t tried for more.”

    Whaaat? I’m 99% sure that this is just flat wrong. US Airways is guaranteed (and has already been given) one of the four “incumbent” slots, but they just haven’t made their intentions known yet. The deadline yesterday was only for the non-incumbent applicants. There is no approval required for the routes the four incumbent carriers choose to fly, so US can announce service to any beyond-perimeter city at any point with the slot they’ve been given.

    1. Well, if they do want the service they have to give up another route and they haven’t announced anything yet. To me that’s not using it. They can still change their mind to use it but as of now they aren’t.

  2. A bit off-topic, but it’s insane to me that we’ll see nonstop competition DCA-SFO before we get it on EWR-SFO.

    1. The United service will be on a 73G so no chance of p.s. there. I suppose they could up-gauge to a 752 and try that but they only have the one route, once a day. And I doubt they need to offer the premium service to fill the plane with a fare premium for the service into DCA.

      As for competition in DCA before EWR, most of the folks who would offer competition really like JFK. Go figure.

  3. @Seth, what you’re saying in your comment is not the same thing you said in the post. Saying “Apparently US Airways has decided to not apply for an additional beyond perimeter slot” suggests that there is an application process and that US Airways chose not to apply for one of the slots. There is in fact no application process for the slot that US Airways has been given. They simply haven’t announced where they’re going to fly yet. What you wrote in the post leads the reader to believe US Airways needed to apply for a beyond perimeter destination (and implies they needed to do it by the 3/12 deadline given to the non-incumbents) and that they chose not to do this, which is incorrect.

  4. Didn’t AA just announce a route expansion from LAX-DCA beginning in June of this year. Does that leave them with one less slot to vie for?

  5. Does Alaska not count as a legacy carrier?

    It’s also worth noting that Alaska is the only airline that currently offers transcon service from DCA (to LAX and SEA).

    1. In this context Alaska is not a legacy, based mostly on the level of operations at DCA. That they have the two transcon services already today might hamper them in their bid to get the additional services; I certainly think it will prevent them from getting both of their requested services. At the same time, I don’t know that DCA-YVR or COS is compelling enough to trump DCA-PDX, especially with the connection options that AS offers over PDX.

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