United and Alaska to battle it out in the wild wild west

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I wrote some weeks ago about United’s desires to expand at LAX and re-establish what was once a large hub for the airline.  I explained why it may not be in United’s best interest to do this, but really what do I know…  Well United is now under pressure at it’s largest hub in the west coast, San Francisco.  Virgin America is headquartered out of the bay area and has a solid domestic network from there.  Now that Alaska has purchased Virgin, it’ll pursue expansion by utilizing Virgin America’s gates at SFO.  The San Francisco Chronicle reports the following on what the expansion means to the new Alaska/Virgin:

With the expansion, Alaska/Virgin will operate 125 daily flights from San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland to 42 destinations by the end of the year, which represents a 45 percent jump in the number of markets it currently serves from those airports.

SFO is now the world’s fastest-growing airport for international travelers. United Airlines has added five international routes out of SFO in the past year, including flights to two major technology hubs, Tel Aviv and Hangzhou, China.

That’s why Alaska’s acquisition of Virgin is so critical to its growth. Controlling more gates at SFO allows the company more flexibility in the booming region, Kaplan said. Plus, it’s actually possible to secure airport slots. By contrast, getting new flights into New York, Chicago and Washington is nearly impossible, because major airlines like American, United and Delta, along with Southwest and JetBlue, dominate slot times at those airports, he said.

So what does this mean for United?

Prior to this merger United could ‘relax’ and focus on expanding at LAX without having to worry too much about their SFO hub.  But with growing competition at SFO, and with United’s renewed domestic focus, it’ll be essential that it aligns resources to protect the strong grip it has in the bay area, in particular out of the SFO hub.

Will this move by Alaska impact United’s play at LAX?  We’ll have to wait and see.  The sure thing is, things keep getting complicated and at some point something’s gotta give.  United has been on a mostly positive trend for quite some time now and it’s imperative that they continue this trend if they intend to equal the likes of the leading US carrier, Delta.  At the very least, for us loyalists, it’ll be a fun year indeed.

What do you think about United’s plans in the west coast?  Will they still be able to expand aggressively at LAX while responding to Alaska in the bay area?


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