Virgin America to establish east coast operations


With the closure of the American Airlines/US Airways merger now complete many of the final pieces are falling in to place. Among them, the landing slot divestiture for LaGuardia has been confirmed by FlightGlobal. And, unlike most other bits of news during this merger, the announcement includes a bit of surprise. Of the 17 slot pairs at LGA required to be sold off to other carriers 5 were already spoken for in that they were leased to Southwest Airlines. Those were transferred permanently as part of the deal. The remaining twelve slots have been split evenly between Southwest and an actual new entrant in the market: Virgin America.

Access to the New York City airport is highly sought after but typically it comes from an airline with established east coast operations which LaGuardia connects to readily. Virgin America’s hub operations on the west coast – San Francisco and Los Angeles – are both outside the perimeter which limits flights to or from LaGuardia to shorter routes. The perimeter rule* requires that Virgin America now operate east coast flights, but to where?

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With only six slots it seems unlikely that the carrier could be competitive in either the Chicago, Boston or Washington, DC shuttle markets. Plus, DC would require additional slots there, something which could be applied for as part of the merger divestment deal with the DoJ but which Virgin America does not yet hold. One option being suggested is that the carrier will use the slots to initiate service to Dallas’s Love Field. Such service is not permitted today due to the Wright Amendment** restrictions in place at the Texas airport but those will not be repealed until October 2014 and it is not yet clear when the slot swap will actually take effect.

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Assuming the slots don’t open up until late in 2014 (which I doubt a bit) there is another consideration: the route faces stiff competition (at least theoretically) on many fronts. American already operates more than a dozen daily frequencies between nearby DFW and LaGuardia. With Southwest picking up more slots and operating their home hub at Love Field it seems quite likely that they will be launching service on that route later in 2014. And Virgin would have limited feed on the Dallas end (presumes that the SFO-Dallas flights would move to Love as well) and no feed at the LaGuardia end. It is hard to believe that there is a lot of money to be made in a market where there would be no feed and a whole bunch of competition.

Virgin America does already offer service to a few other east coast cities but none are particularly well suited to providing connecting service for their existing passenger flows.

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This will be a very interesting development to watch in the coming weeks/months.

* Perimeter Rule – Flights to/from LGA are limited to distances of 1500 miles or shorter except on Saturdays or to Denver. This was to force larger/longer flights to JFK and keep LGA as a quieter, local airport. Success/impact of the rule is hotly contested.

** Wright Amendment – Put in place in 1979 in an effort to screw Southwest and protect DFW and Braniff, the Wright Amendment limited flights from DAL to only neighboring states. It has been revised a couple times since and will be fully repealed in October 2014.

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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, LinkedIn and .

15 Comments

  1. Isn’t in possible that VX could get a decent amount of slots at DCA and make it into a mini-hub? I know DCA-LGA would be a rough market for VX to enter, but I think it would be possible.

  2. They’re welcome to come to ROC and smaller markets thereabout!

    In serious terms, what about service to dehubbed cities like CVG, PIT, and MEM? All within the radius, and probably opportunities for under-pricing legacy hub operators.

  3. I’m hoping for RDU (or maybe CLT). They have no presence between Washington and Florida leaving the 25 million people between those two areas without access to VA.

  4. Snowbird route down to Florida? Expansion into the Caribbeans? Cross-bay shuttle between JFK and LGA? 🙂

    I think your thought on LGA-DFW makes sense, since AA owns that route solely at the moment. Fare is in the $1200 range if purchased < 14 days in advance, so there's enough room for more competition. They can build a trip based on SFO-DFW-LGA, crew rest in Brooklyn, and reverse out of JFK or LGA.

  5. I’m guessing there’s not enough Premium traffic to justify it, but would Virgin America consider LGA-MSY or LGA-MSP?

  6. We could only hope for a piece of this in Cincinnati. DL currently runs non-stops from CVG to LGA, FLL, SFO and LAX with no competition. I think VX could make any of those routes interesting. Would love to see early morning CVG-LGA then LGA-CVG-SFO then SFO-CVG return. I’m not sure if DL is even doing a direct return so even a redeye would be an improvement on that route for us.

  7. Surely — surely! — VX isn’t crazy enough to try that? AA and WN aren’t models of health and vigor, but taking them both on on their home turf seems unwise. I’ve been wrong about VX’s willingness to serve doomed markets a lot of times though (YYZ, EWR…), so who knows.

    That said, I can’t say what I would do with those slots other than lease them to the highest bidder. The ”best” alternatives (I presume FLL/MCO or maybe ORD) all seem like probable money pits too. Saturday-only service to SFO or LAX sounds reasonable by comparison.

    How is VX still in business again?

  8. Isn’t it also possible they could move some destinations from JFK to LGA to open up more opportunities at JFK for other (maybe higher premium) routes?

    What if they moved half of the SJU flights to LGA? I’m guessing a lot of that traffic originates/terminates in NYC–even those that connect beyond SJU. And LGA is more convenient than JFK to more Puerto Rican neighborhoods in NYC as well as most Manhattanite vacationers who may be connecting beyond SJU…

    1. Thank goodness you cleared that up, Justin. I was pretty confused for a minute there. 🙂

      SJU is outside the 1500 mile perimeter so that would not be possible.

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