Curiosity got the better of me this weekend with respect to the capacity Delta and United Airlines have on flights from their own hubs to those of the other. And so I compiled a bit of data. I’m sure there are a couple errors in there as reading the timetables are a pain given the variation in aircraft and times throughout the week, plus I just picked a random week 10 days out, but I still think that some of the data is interesting.
Of the hub list only NYC is shared by the two (UA mostly at EWR; DL mostly at JFK & LGA) and that presents some interesting bits of data. Looking at seats from NYC to United hubs has UA winning without much trouble.
Comparing NYC to Delta hubs presents the same story, just told the other way
(except for Chicago, where UA runs flights to both LGA and EWR from ORD) (not actually a DL hub; ignore that line in the chart).
For the rest of the airports Delta is mostly in the dominant position in terms of seats flown. No surprise in Atlanta, for example.
Nor in Detroit, Minneapolis or Salt Lake City.
Seattle used to be something resembling a United focus city and Delta is building it up as a hub but United still has more seats to most of its hubs than Delta does. In this regard it is something of an outlier in the data.
And then there’s Cincinnati, a station Delta still calls a hub despite having mostly eviscerated the capacity there. United has more lift than Delta to many of its hub cities there.
So that’s some of the data, but I also happen to wonder why it is this way. Why does Delta have more lift to United’s hubs than the other way around? The short answer is that I have no idea, but I do have a theory. Generally speaking United’s hubs are bigger cities with more potential passengers which means a higher load of folks who are starting or ending their trip in the hub rather than connecting onwards. To make their hubs work Delta needs more connection traffic to fill the long-haul planes. MSP has 46% connecting passengers, similar to EWR as of 2012. Houston Intercontinental was around 53% in 2013. LAX was much lower at 38% in 2011.
For Atlanta the number of connecting passengers is even higher, hovering near 70% in recent years. While that is expected to decrease slightly as Southwest changes its market strategy it should be noted that AirTran was already below the average which means Delta’s numbers were higher than that.
Going back a bit further (it turns out that finding this data was harder than I hoped) to 2005 the numbers are even more dramatic; there is a lot of connecting traffic over a lot of Delta’s hubs.
And so the ultimate question: Is one business model necessarily better or worse? Is having more flights to your competitors’ hubs a necessity to succeed? I’m not quite convinced. If your business plan is more focused on connecting passengers versus O/D markets then it absolutely is necessary as you need to funnel those passengers through your hubs to fill planes. But if you’re filling planes without the connecting traffic then it might not be so bad.
Pending more spare time in the future I’m planning to add the AA hubs into the mix to see what those numbers look like. I’m betting they mostly follow the trends of the last chart here, with a few minor changes. The hubs more dependent on connecting traffic will have more feed for connecting flights. It makes sense that they would.
Never miss another post: Sign up for email alerts and get only the content you want direct to your inbox.