Don’t Believe Delta: Eliminating LaGuardia’s Perimeter Rule Will Reduce Service to Small Cities. And That’s Ok.

Immediately after plans were announced to remake LaGuardia airport, there was speculation about a side deal with Delta to get the airline to pay for part of the renovation in exchange for lifting the perimeter rule at the airport.

Currently only flights up to 1500 miles may depart the airport (Denver is exempted and the rule doesn’t apply on Saturdays — though there’s little business travel on Saturdays that would support long haul service). Delta, as the largest operator at the airport, would benefit most if they could fly cross country from the airport closest-in to Midtown Manhattan.

And indeed, the Port Authority is now considering lifting the rule.

The Perimeter Rule Had Perverse Effects in DC, Less So in New York

I have no particular affection for the perimeter rule. I’m inclined to think that it does not make sense, although I haven’t studied its effects as closely as the perimeter rule at Washington’s National airport. Like at LaGuardia, where the rule was intended to push long haul flying out to New York JFK, the idea of limiting flights (to 1250 miles, though there are now exceptions) at National was to assist Dulles in developing as the hub for long haul traffic in the DC region.

At Dulles the opposite happened. Because the perimeter rule meant more short haul flying in place of long haul flights, there weren’t as many short haul routes operating out of Dulles for years. That delayed the development of Dulles as hub by a decade, since it meant less connecting traffic — the airport had to survive mostly on the basis of longer flights that could be supported with local DC traffic alone. And even once United built up Dulles as a hub it was for years its most marginal, even to the point that there were considerations of eliminating the operation during the airline’s bankruptcy.

LaGuardia is different. Since New York JFK is slot controlled too (during peak times) it is ‘maxed out’ to a large degree already. Allowing long haul flying out of LaGuardia isn’t likely to eliminate the need for such flights at Kennedy. The mix of flights will change somewhat, of course.

Despite Delta’s Protestations, Small Community Air Service Will Suffer Without the Perimeter Rule

Small communities worry that if new long haul flights are permitted out of LaGuardia service to their towns will suffer in favor of these new long distance flights. Upstate New York legislators are mobilizing to oppose the relaxation of the perimeter rule.

In response Delta claims these small communities will actually benefit from the change. On net ending the perimeter rule probably makes sense, but Delta’s suggestion that Syracuse is better off if that happens is disingenuous.

In a letter this week to Assembly Majority leader Joseph Morelle, Delta Senior Vice President Gail Grimmett said removing the so-called “perimeter rule” at LaGuardia would result in substantially more connecting flights to the West Coast for travelers from Upstate cities.

…Grimmett said Delta would pledge that no small city would lose service to New York City if the perimeter rule is lifted. Delta offers four daily flights from Syracuse Hancock International Airport to LaGuardia. It is the only carrier to fly direct to LaGuardia from Syracuse.

“We remain fully committed to our current service to Upstate and connecting the region to New York City and the world,” Grimmett said.

She also said lifting the rule could result in the use of bigger planes serving Upstate cities. Currently, just 7 percent of flights at LaGuardia use aircraft with 150 or more seats, she said.

“Substantially more connecting flights to the West Coast” It’s not clear that’s true if there are fewer flights from small cities to LaGuardia, and those small cities generally can connect now via Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, Denver, and other gateways to how much better connectivity to the West Coast LaGuardia will offer on a connecting basis seems questionable (especially since flying via LaGuardia, and dealing with New York’s congested airspace, is likely to add time to the journey).

“No small city would lose service” They may not lose all service (connectivity to LaGuardia) but they’ll likely lose frequency. Delta even hints at that when they also talk about serving cities with larger aircraft. Since the total number of takeoffs and landings at LaGuardia are limited, new West Coast flights will have to trade off with existing flights to somewhere. Eventually they could lose service entirely, at least in some cases, presumably after whatever formal period Delta offers to guarantee that they don’t expires.

Don’t Believe Airlines When They Promise to Maintain Air Service

When Delta was seeking to merge with Northwest,

Delta CEO Richard Anderson told a congressional committee the merged carrier would retain service to Amsterdam, and suggested to a Memphis newspaper that the merger would increase its Memphis service, not shrink it.

Northwest operated more than 220 daily flights in Memphis prior to the merger. Now they’re down to about 10% of that amount, with year-round daily service only to Atlanta, Cincinnati, Detroit, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul and New York LaGuardia. They don’t even offer year-round service to their Salt Lake hub.

In defense of Delta I came across two arguments: time passed since the promises were made, and who believes an airline anyway?

We Know What to Expect Without a Perimeter Rule, And That’s Ok

It probably made good sense to pull down capacity at Memphis. No one should be surprised by that.

And no one should believe an airline when it says it won’t take logical steps which advance the profitability of its business.

No one should believe that eliminating the perimeter rule won’t change the mix of flights at LaGuardia. It will. We live in a world of tradeoffs, and Delta wants to offer long haul flights because that’s what its customers want. The preferences of upstate New York shouldn’t necessarily trump that. But let’s be honest about that.

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 »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. Gary
    Is DFW an exemption or is it under 1500 miles?
    Also i remember a few years ago taking a LGA SLC flight on delta, it was once a week saturday
    I lived very close ( almost walking distance) to LGA for many years
    It is a zoo….but a really convenient one

  2. I live in Rochester, a short hop from your Syracuse example. Delta flies 5 non-stops to LGA on weekdays from here, all RJ’s. If lifting the perimeter rule means three flights a day on mainline equipment to free up slots for their transcon schedule, I’m okay with that trade off. If it just means cutting frequency without up-gauging, there’s no real benefit for us in that deal. Connecting service to the west coast is already available through a variety of other hubs. I would take anything they say about benefits to upstate NY cities with a very large grain of salt – this is all about maximizing their revenue and competitiveness out of LGA.

  3. @Doug DFW is 1389 miles. Interestingly it’s 1192 miles from DCA, and the DCA perimeter is 1250 miles. There’s a reason for that.

  4. @gary
    tks, it seems AA has great lobbysts…
    Whats with the LGA SLC flight? Does it still run?
    When was the perimeter rule applied? I remember taking that flight about 5 years ago

  5. @doug I do not believe Delta is permitted to fly SLC-LGA, and don’t think they do run such a flight. it would be news to me if they used to, and wouldn’t know where that authority would have come from.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *