United is pulling out of 2 more US cities, ending service on long-time California route

Jul 5, 2022

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The news isn’t getting any better for small U.S. cities, which continue to bear the brunt of airline network changes.

The latest move comes from United Airlines, which filed plans over the weekend to discontinue serving Flagstaff, Arizona (FLG), and Texarkana, Arkansas (TXK) this fall, as first seen in Cirium schedules and later confirmed by the carrier.

United will cease flying between Houston (IAH) and Texarkana on Sept. 6, followed a few weeks later when flights between Denver (DEN) and Flagstaff (FLG) end on Oct. 30. When the carrier cuts these routes, it’ll mark the end of United service to both cities.

Additionally, United will stop flying between Los Angeles (LAX) and San Diego (SAN) as of Oct. 30. Unlike Flagstaff and Texarkana, San Diego will continue to be served from several United hubs, including Denver, Newark (EWR), Washington/Dulles (IAD), Houston, Chicago (ORD) and San Francisco (SFO).

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A United spokesperson didn’t have many details to share about the cuts, but confirmed the move with the following statement:

We’ve made the difficult decision to suspend service to two cities this fall — Flagstaff and Texarkana — and have already started working with customers on alternate plans.

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Perhaps the most interesting cut is Texarkana, which was essentially an experiment for United. The airline’s regional affiliate CommutAir began serving the city on Feb. 13, 2022, with once-daily flights to Houston aboard the 50-seat Embraer 145.

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.

United entered into a one-year contract to see if the flights will work, with the grant guaranteeing revenues to keep serving the airport during the first year, even if passenger counts are low.

Well, the airline likely didn’t see enough demand to keep flying the route, which will leave the city served by American Airlines with its (up to) four daily flights to Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW).

Meanwhile, when United’s service to Flagstaff Pulliam Airport ends, the airline’s travelers will no longer have convenient access to the Grand Canyon National Park. This regional airport, which will continue to be served by American from DFW and Phoenix (PHX), is the closest one to the major tourist attraction (that’s served by legacy carriers).

As for San Diego, United has flown the route from L.A. consistently for at least the past 40 years. The airline used the short, 109-mile flight to feed connections to and from San Diego through its hub at Los Angeles International Airport to cities across the country, as well as to international long-haul service.

United travelers based in San Diego will now need to either connect in San Francisco or Houston for transpacific flights or fly to hubs further east to get to cities in Europe. Alternatively, they could drive to Los Angeles, which takes about two hours, but is subject to highway traffic.

(Map courtesy of Cirium)

While demand for flights to and from these small cities may indeed be weak, the move comes as the nationwide pilot shortage continues to have an outsized effect on regional networks for the major U.S. carriers.

Just last month, American filed plans to drop four U.S. cities and cut three routes in a big network adjustment, after announcing plans to park about 100 regional aircraft due to the pilot shortage. Delta Air Lines also dropped three small cities earlier this year due to the “ongoing travel demand impact from the pandemic.”

And this isn’t United’s first time cutting small cities, either. Late last year, the carrier announced that it would end service to 10 smaller cities, declaring operations in those markets unsustainable with 50-seat regional jets.

Regional giant SkyWest Airlines even filed plans to drop 29 cities because of the pilot storage. These cuts represent most of SkyWest’s Essential Air Service (EAS) flying.

EAS is the federal government’s program that subsidizes air service to small communities where service might not otherwise be viable. Contracts are bid on by different carriers and awarded by the DOT, which administers the EAS program.

Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy

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