Virgin America adds Newark transcon flights


Virgin America is adding two flights at Newark this fall, one each to Los Angeles and San Francisco. The west coast carrier is the latest to join the party, announcing new operations since the FAA indicated it would no longer regulate access via slot controls effective with the Winter 2016 schedule which starts 30 October 2016. The additions come even as the company’s shareholders voted this week to approve the merger with Alaska Airlines.

With the new services added the carrier will require additional gate space for more of the day, a common challenge for airlines looking to add flights at Newark. But it also means, as the company notes in the release, that the flight times will be more convenient and better spaced through the day. Virgin America is the only airline offering transcon passengers a choice between Newark or JFK for nonstop service since United pulled out of JFK last fall. It is the smallest at each location, a position it is forced into thanks to being the newest and limited access to landing slots up until now, but it is at both.

At Newark United dominates in terms of flight frequencies with roughly hourly “shuttle-esque” service for both routes. Virgin’s frequencies at JFK are overshadowed by American Airlines, Delta and JetBlue. The hard product is also overshadowed by the competition; Virgin America remains the only carrier in the market not flying flat beds and that is unlikely to change any time soon.

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Other new entrants at Newark include new flights announced by Alaska Airlines, JetBlue (Barbados, Saturday-only, seasonal) and Allegiant (Knoxville, Ashville, Cincinnati & Savannah), all recently announced. Ethiopian Airlines just increased its service from Addis Ababa (via Lome) to 4x weekly. JetBlue likely will add more as it examines opportunities and especially with the increased fleet growth coming in 2017 thanks to the order placed earlier this week.

And it was all made possible because the FAA believes airlines are able to operate in and out of Newark on time more often. How much better? Here are the numbers the DOT released in the announcement:

Current analysis show significant improvements in on-time performance and delay metrics during peak periods of demand at EWR. For example, on-time gate arrivals at EWR have increased by about 11 percent when comparing May through August 2015 to the same period in 2007. On-time gate departures improved by approximately 3 percent. The mean arrival and departure delays are down by about 33 percent, and the delays greater than 60 minutes are down by 37 percent for arrivals and 38 percent for departures.

That on-time departure number, according to FlightStats, was 73.92% in August 2015. For June 2016 it was at 72.9%. That’s in the same ballpark but hardly what can be seen as a successful score from either an airline or passenger perspective. But it appears to be good enough for the FAA. Says Administrator Michael Huerta:

The significant improvements in on-time performance and delays at Newark allowed us to make these changes. This change will improve access to some of the most in-demand airspace in the country and has the potential to provide more options for local consumers.

And it allows Newark to act as a relief valve for JFK. Which is great if the schedules can remain reasonable. I’m not holding my breath, given that the only reason things got as good as they did is because access was limited. Start building up flights again in the congested airspace and it seems likely that delays will follow. At least passengers will have more choice for which airline they want to be delayed on.

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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 .

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