Additional Slots Awarded for Reagan National

Washington, DC’s Ronald Reagan National Airport is currently limited both in the number of takeoffs and landings permitted (slot controlled) and in the distance that flights make travel to and from the airport (1250 miles).

There are some exceptions to the 1250 mile ‘perimeter rule’ that have been carved out by Congress, for example Alaska Airlines currently flies one daily flight to Seattle and America West flies to Las Vegas.

More flights are coming to National, including flights beyond the perimeter.

    The department awarded United Airlines with two daily flights to Denver; Frontier Airlines with four flights to Denver; Alaska Airlines with one daily flight to Seattle and one to Los Angeles; and America West Airlines with two flights to Phoenix.

    The Transportation Department awarded a number of short-haul slots, including two daily flights each for AirTran Airways to Atlanta; Comair to Jackson, Miss., or Lexington, Ky.; Midwest Airlines to Kansas City, Mo.; Spirit Airlines to Detroit; and US Airways to Asheville, N.C., Chattanooga, Tenn., or Wilmington, N.C.

Ostensibly the perimeter rule is a result of the

    airport authority’s long-standing plan to have National serve as the region’s day-trip, short-haul airport, while Dulles International Airport serves as the long-haul international hub.

In other words, there’s long been a desire to ‘protect’ Dulles Airport, way out in the Virginia suburbs, from competition on long haul routes from the more convenient to downtown National airport.

The irony, as I wrote several years ago in the Washington Post, is that the unintended consequence was to delay the development of Dulles as a hub for about a decade.

Without a mix of short and long haul flights at National (holding slots constant), there were more short haul flights — which meant that Dulles didn’t receive any meaningful short flights that could have driven connecting traffic to the transcontinental and transatlantic flights that were departing the airport daily. Dulles had to survive almost exclusively on origination and destination traffic because it was starved for short haul flights to feed it passengers.

Update: Alaska Airlines isn’t really adding additional frequency from Seattle to the DC area — they’re switching one flight from Dulles to National. I had booked a June roundtrip using Dulles. The flights were automatically changed to National, upgrades intact. No note or email from Alaska Airlines, however.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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