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Turf war: United defends DC hub against yet another new rival

Feb. 22, 2023
4 min read
United Airbus A319 New Livery
Turf war: United defends DC hub against yet another new rival
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United Airlines is serious about defending its position in one of its key East Coast hubs.

Over the weekend, the carrier filed plans to begin a new seasonal route from its hub at Dulles International Airport (IAD) near Washington to Calgary International Airport (YYC), as first seen in Cirium schedules and later confirmed by a carrier spokesperson.

The new 1,951-mile route will begin on June 2 and operate daily through Sept. 28 aboard a 126-seat Airbus A319, which features 12 first-class recliners, 36 extra-legroom economy plus seats and 78 standard economy seats.

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It's possible that United's network planning department had been considering this new route from Dulles. However, it's likely no coincidence that the team filed the plans just four days after WestJet, a Canadian low-cost carrier, announced its own intention to fly from Dulles to Calgary.

As part of a broader transborder network update, WestJet unveiled plans to launch the first-ever service from the Washington, D.C., area to Calgary, Alberta. WestJet's new service will also launch on — you guessed it — June 2, but it'll be operated just three times a week through October 2023.

Calgary is set to become the 60th international destination from Dulles, and WestJet will become the airport's 40th airline. Although the airport and local authorities might celebrate the new WestJet service, United is coming in to defend its hub from this new competitor.

Going from zero to up to 300 daily seats in the market should certainly bring low fares and healthy competition for customers headed to or from Calgary.

In addition to daily flights, United customers will also have plenty of one-stop connecting options for itineraries beyond Dulles.

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WestJet's network beyond Calgary also includes plenty of intra-Canada routes, as well as a few long-haul services, such as Tokyo, London and Paris (though it wouldn't necessarily make sense for someone to backtrack from Dulles to Calgary to Europe).


This isn't the first time that United has defended its home turf from a new entrant. In fact, earlier this month, United put its biggest jet on a new fourth-daily flight from Dulles to San Diego International Airport (SAN), just days after Alaska Airlines announced plans to commence once-daily service in the market.

United has enjoyed a monopoly on the 2,253-mile IAD-to-SAN route since Southwest dropped the market in March 2016, Cirium schedules show. Without any competition on the nonstop, United had strong pricing power on the route for more than six years.

With new competing services from Alaska and WestJet, it seems United isn't going to watch from the sidelines. Instead, the airline is going with a full-court press against both carriers. Whether the market can support all this additional service is anyone's guess, but it'll certainly be interesting to watch how it plays out.

In addition to Dulles, WestJet also announced new services from Calgary to two Delta hubs: Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW) and Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP).

While United is putting up a fight at Dulles, don't expect Delta to retaliate in the Upper Midwest. That's because the Atlanta-based carrier has a longstanding partnership with WestJet, which now includes reciprocal mileage earning and elite benefits.

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