Delta Scales Back Its Attempt To Gain New “Beyond Perimeter” Slots At Washington National Airport

Three months ago Delta Air Lines launched an effort to gain new slots at Washington National airport which would allow them to fly beyond the normal limit of 1,250 miles.

Flights out of ‘DCA’ airport are generally limited to distances of no more than 1250 miles, and have been since 1986. From 1966 to 1980 the limit was 650 miles. Then from 1981 to 1986 it was 1000 miles.

Federal law has carved out ‘exemptions’ three times in the last 20 years, and today there are 20 permitted roundtrips a day to destinations farther than 1250 miles from National airport.

Delta wanted 28 new roundtrips a day authorized, and of course they’d gain many of those for themselves. This faced significant pushback.

  • United Airlines especially opposes more flights beyond the current perimeter, because those compete against United’s own flights at Washington Dulles. (Passengers in the region currently have to travel out to United’s hub for longer-distance non-stop flights.)

  • American Airlines which currently has 57% of the takeoff and landing rights at National airport. New slots would dilute their position.

National Hall

Delta has scaled back what it wants as part of the FAA Reauthorization bill. ‘Compromise’ legislation has been introduced by members of the House from Delta hubs in Utah and Georgia seeking just seven new daily slots, which airlines could use for either shorter flights or beyond-perimeter service. American appears to have backed off of its opposition given the scaled back request, becoming more lukewarm. (Update: Southwest Airlines has come out in favor.)

National airport, formally named for Ronald Reagan, is a congested airport. It lacks gate and terminal space. But it’s not really above intended flying capacity, because slot allocations assumed private jet movements throughout the day that are no longer permitted.

National Airport Historic Terminal

Ultimately the battle here is over which airline gets subsidies – the exclusive right to fly in and out of the airport gifted to it by the government (slots) or protection from competition. Neither is a good approach. Congestion pricing would be far more market-based and pro-competitive, but there won’t be any airlines currently holding slots that would support this.

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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  1. Delta’s revised request appears to be just a recognition that there won’t be large numbers of slot exemptions – they probably didn’t really expect them anyway- and instead is going to focus on something that reflects what it can get.
    American is clearly wanting a piece of the action too so it makes sense to soften their rhetoric.

  2. @Tim Dunn – they absolutely wanted more, this is a save to get something and not only has American dropped its opposition but Southwest signed on.

  3. Gary,
    I never said that Delta didn’t want more – just that they know there won’t be huge numbers of new flights. What Delta asked for and what it expected are two very different things.

    And, as I said before, I expect that there will probably be some preference for carriers w/ a small presence but AA, DL and WN are the top 3 slot holders at DCA so they are going to have to fight for any chance to get something.

    and, yes, this just kicks the can of uncompetitiveness further down the road and only incrementally fixes problems

  4. Delta SEA route
    WN wants DEN, and a PHX or LAS

    AA has the only redeye route to DCA from PHX.

    Politically they could add routes to ABQ, BOI, SAN/ SNA, SAT/AUS, and BZN/BIL

    They could add an international route …to Mexico City, Central America, Caribbean, and western Canada

  5. They should put any new/additional slots up for auction to the highest (airline) bidder that can prove they will use the slots.

  6. It’s good for Hill interns and airline shareholders, and the flying public has to appreciate this. The flying public should just gird its loins and appreciate how the restrictive perimeter rule is good for powerful Hill denizens and airline shareholders, and appreciate that the DCA’s corrupt ground staffing is not as slow as at Air Serbia. After all, TSA got its huge new Kabuki Theatre space bookcasing Terminals B & C, the huge space light-drenched space with a soaring ceiling and huge glass windows at both Security South and Security North, with big new mazes of stanchions and ropes. The flying public just has to learn to put up and stop its 1st world problems whining, apparently.

  7. Maybe Congress should focus some time and federal resources on improving air traffic control in the northeast instead of fighting about more slots at DCA.

  8. @Dan

    They can’t add those int’l routes, as DCA does not have Customs and Immigration. The only int’l routes it can support would have to have US preclearance like cities in Canada, Bermuda, Nassau, to name a few.

  9. They can add customs at DCA. Their HQ is only a few miles away.

    They can add Canada routes because they have pre clear Air Canads routes.

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