United adds a new US city after cutting 11 in back-to-back weeks

Nov 16, 2021

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Small U.S. cities can breathe a (slight) sigh of relief this week.

After back-to-back weeks of major cuts from United, the Chicago-based carrier is adding a new pin to its route map on the border of Arkansas and Texas.

United Express regional affiliate CommutAir will commence service to Texarkana (TXK) on Feb. 13, 2022, operating once-daily flights from Houston (IAH) aboard the 50-seat Embraer 145, as first seen in Cirium schedules and later confirmed by the carrier.

Turns out, United didn’t necessarily make the decision to enter Texarkana on its own volition. The local airport authority received $884,722 in grants from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Small Community Air Service Development Program to fund this new service.

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According to Paul Merlich, the Texarkana airport director, as quoted by KSLA News 12, United is entering into a one-year contract to see if the flights will work. The grant guarantees revenues for United to keep serving the airport during the first year, even if enplanements are low.

United’s service will offer plenty of one-stop connections for the local community through its Houston hub. The airline will go up against American Airlines’ (up to) four daily flights to Dallas/Fort Worth, its largest hub.

While the local community might be celebrating the new flight, the national storyline is that United isn’t exclusively cutting small U.S. cities from its network. Over the past two weeks, the airline has revealed plans to exit 11 small U.S. cities that it primarily served from Chicago, Houston and Denver.

United’s 11 city cuts (Map courtesy of Cirium)

The airline blamed poor economics for the cuts, saying that the pandemic has wiped out much of the demand for flights to these cities. Interestingly, as part of United’s latest round of cuts, Twin Falls, Idaho, received a similar grant from the government in February 2020, and United just recently announced plans to pull out of the market, roughly 21 months later.

Of course, the Texarkana flight is also aided by the government grant — so only time will tell if the airline actually continues the service beyond the one-year mark.

Either way, the move to add service to Texarkana stands in contrast to the outsized effect the pandemic has had on small cities without enough demand to warrant jet service.

Related: United Airlines is dropping 8 more US cities from its route map

For example, late last year, American Airlines suspended service to several smaller cities. Flights resumed at some of those airports, only to be cut again in places like Williamsport, Pennsylvania (IPT) — which lost airline service altogether as of Oct. 1. Recently, Delta filed plans to pull out of Durango, Colorado (DRO), while United made headlines for ending service to Rochester, Minnesota (RST).

If United’s latest route-map addition is successful, perhaps the carrier will consider restoring service to some of the airports it’s leaving, or adding new service to other regional airports nationwide, especially if there are financial guarantees available.

Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy

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