United drops Washington Dulles route even as hub grows overall

Nov 18, 2019

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United Airlines will end one of its recent additions at Washington Dulles, dropping service to Elmira, New York, after a year in the market.

The Star Alliance carrier will end its twice-daily service between Washington Dulles (IAD) and Elmira (ELM) on Jan. 6, according to Cirium schedule data and confirmed by United. The route replaced service from Newark (EWR) last January, a route that itself was launched after flights from Chicago O’Hare (ORD) were discontinued in 2016.

United spokesman Jonathan Guerin said the decision is due to low demand.

The airline’s departure from Elmira leaves Ithaca (ITH) its sole destination in New York’s “Southern Tier” region. United connects Ithaca, which is home to both Cornell University and Ithaca College, with Dulles thrice daily.

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American Airlines, whose forerunner US Airways used to dominate the Southern Tier, has similarly shrunk its operation to just Ithaca. The Oneworld alliance carrier ended service to Binghamton (BGM) and Elmira (ELM) in 2017.

United’s decision to end the route from Washington comes even as it grows north-south connections over the airport. Elmira joins Chattanooga (CHA) among short-lived feeder routes at Dulles that United will end this winter. However, United continues to add more markets than it ends at the hub: Fort Myers (RSW) and Sarasota (SRQ) flights began in October, and Akron/Canton (CAK), Philadelphia (PHL) and West Palm Beach (PBI) begin next year.

Ankit Gupta, United’s domestic network head, told Evercore analysts in March that costs fall at Dulles as the airline grows. This trend supported further growth and made some feeder markets more profitable than than when they connected to higher-cost hubs like Newark. Gupta cited Ithaca as one such route.

Related: United adds 3 more routes to growing Washington Dulles hub

United will fly nearly 7% more seats through Dulles in the first six months of 2020 compared to this year, Cirium data shows. This June, it added two gates to the roughly 75 it controlled at the airport to support its expansion.

Separately, also on Jan. 6, the carrier will end daily service between Los Angeles (LAX) and Pasco (PSC) in Washington, according to Cirium. United will continue to serve Pasco from Denver (DEN) and San Francisco (SFO), as well as with new service from Chicago that begins in June.

Overall, United plans to grow system capacity by 4-6% next year.

Elmira will only be served by Allegiant Air and Delta Air Lines once United ends flights. Allegiant flies to Punta Gorda (PGD), Orlando Sanford (SFB) and St. Petersburg-Clearwater (PIE) in Florida, and Delta to Detroit (DTW).

Allegiant will be the sole airline flying between Los Angeles and Pasco with United’s exit.

Related: United plans to roll out 3D photos of aircraft interiors on seat map page

Featured image by Shutterstock.

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