How Could Lifting LaGuardia’s Perimeter Rule Impact The Airport?

New York’s LaGuardia Airport is one of the most convenient airports for much of New York City and its surrounding areas. However, it is vastly limited in terms of the flights that it can host, thanks to a perimeter rule. From time-to-time, there is some talk about lifting that perimeter rule. But, just how would lifting that perimeter rule impact LaGuardia Airport (LGA)?

Delta LGA Getty
LaGuardia is governed by a perimeter rule, but should that rule be lifted? Photo: Getty Images

LaGuardia’s perimeter rule

LaGuardia Airport has had a perimeter rule in effect since the 1950s. The original perimeter rule allowed airlines to operate flights to and from the airport within 2,000 miles.

However, that perimeter rule was tightened in the 1980s to cities within 1,500 miles from LaGuardia. The Port Authority, the airport’s manager, decided to keep LaGuardia from getting overly crowded and constrained.

LaGuardia perimter rule
The perimeter rule out of LaGuardia limits flights to destinations within 1,500 miles. Rendering created at Great Circle Mapper

The other motive for the perimeter rule was to keep New York John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) and Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) as the main hubs for longer domestic and international travel to and from New York. At the same time, LaGuardia would handle domestic routes closer to and from New York. LaGuardia would, essentially, get more of a commuter profile, and it has maintained some of that.

Stay informed: Sign up for our daily and weekly aviation news digests!

Other famous perimeter rules

One of the most famous perimeter rules governs Washington D.C.’s Reagan National Airport (DCA). That perimeter rule does not allow the airport to serve airports more than 1,250 miles away from the airport.

However, the perimeter rule at DCA does have some exceptions. Up to 20 daily roundtrip flights are allowed to operate from DCA to airports outside of this perimeter. Some cities that are served outside of that perimeter are transcontinental flights to the West Coast, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, Denver, Austin, and Puerto Rico.

DCA Departing
US airlines also have to deal with other airports governed by perimeter rules, like DCA. Photo: Getty Images

Last year, the US government looked at some possibilities for lifting the perimeter rule governing DCA. However, this faced some stiff competition, and it seemed the perimeter rule would be here to stay at DCA, though airlines and airports did hope to get some additional exceptions.

Much like the perimeter rule governing LGA, the one at DCA is designed to funnel more traffic to Dulles International Airport (IAD) in the Washington-area. Alternate traffic could also fly into Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI).

One successful phase-out of a perimeter rule was at Dallas Love Field (DAL). Designed to keep most air traffic in the Dallas-area at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), the Wright Amendment restricted Love Field operations to destinations in Texas and its four neighboring states.

Southwest Getty
Southwest Airlines benefited from the lifting of the perimeter rule at Dallas-Love. Photo: Getty Images

After undergoing several amendments, the Wright Amendment was fully repealed in 2014. This allowed DAL to gain additional nonstop and one-stop connecting services to destinations like Las Vegas, Washington D.C., and Chicago. Several more destinations were added afterward, including out to Seattle and New York. Southwest was one of the major catalysts of this growth at DAL.

The exceptions

There are two exceptions to LaGuardia’s perimeter rule. The first allows flights daily to Denver, which was grandfathered in the 1984 tightening of the perimeter rule.

The other exception are Saturday flights. Saturdays can be low days for air travel at an airport. Leisure travelers like to take a Friday to Sunday or Monday travel schedule, and business travelers typically do not fly on Saturdays.

American Getty
As one example of a Saturday exception is American’s flights to Aruba from LaGuardia. Photo: Getty Images

So, to keep the airport still running, airlines can access additional destinations on the weekend. These routes mostly cater to leisure travelers who would be fine delaying their travel plans a day for a nonstop flight.

What cities would benefit from an increase in LaGuardia service?

If the perimeter rule were lifted, almost immediately, destinations currently served outside of the 1,500-mile radius would get extra service. This includes Caribbean destinations, flights to and from outdoor and ski destinations in Montana and Colorado, and currently non-served hubs.

LaGuardia Getty
LaGuardia is undergoing a major redevelopment project but lifting the perimeter rule is currently not part of the redevelopment plan. Photo: Getty Images

Transcontinental flights would be among the more likely candidates for new flights to and from LaGuardia if the perimeter rule were lifted. LaGuardia is a small airport, so widebodies are unlikely to serve it, but larger jets like an Airbus A321 or Boeing 737 would be able to be accommodated at the airport.

LaGuardia is also able to handle smaller regional jets. Photo: Getty Images

Besides the usual suspects of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle, additional western destinations like San Diego could end up on the route map to and from LaGuardia. In addition, airline hubs currently not served from LaGuardia, like Salt Lake City and Phoenix, would also be one of the first new additions.

LaGuardia cannot handle international flights, as the airport does not have a customs facility. It can, however, handle flights coming in from an international airport where there is a US border preclearance facility. This would include airports like Vancouver or Calgary. LaGuardia already handles flights coming from Toronto.

WestJet LaGuardia Getty
LaGuardia does get some international service from points in Canada and the Caribbean, including US preclearance facilities. Photo: Getty Images

A stretch of LaGuardia’s perimeter rule could see narrowbody long-haul international flights from Shannon or Dublin, as those are the only destinations within reach of a narrowbody long-haul jet from LaGuardia, but that would be a major stretch, given that LaGuardia’s short runways could constrain the payload acceptable on those flights.

Which airlines would benefit from LaGuardia opening up?

LaGuardia’s largest carrier is Delta Air Lines. They would be an airline that would almost immediately benefit from the opening, as they have the ground game in place to expand to destinations further out from the airport.

In fact, in 2015, Delta began a campaign to lift the perimeter rule, which would allow it to boost its hub. The argument was that with New York-JFK pretty crowded and heavily slot controlled already, Delta would be able to expand significantly and touted that passengers could gain additional connecting opportunities out of LaGuardia. That campaign did not come to fruition.

Delta LaGuardia
Delta Air Lines would be one of the biggest beneficiaries of a lifting of the perimeter rule. Photo: Getty Images

LaGuardia is still a very important airport for Delta. The carrier values its slots at the airport so much that it abandoned its joint venture plans with WestJet over the US DOT’s mandate to divest slots at the airport if it wanted to continue with joint venture plans.

Two other carriers could benefit from the lifting of the perimeter rule from LaGuardia. These are American and JetBlue. The two carriers recently unveiled a close partnership and expanded service, which could allow both airlines to grow with new flights to destinations.

American Getty
American Airlines would be another beneficiary of a lifting of the perimeter rule. Photo: Getty Images

Smaller but still significant players in LaGuardia are low-cost carriers. Both Southwest and Spirit fly from LaGuardia. Both airlines would certainly love to get additional slots at the New York City airport, which would allow the two airlines to offer an alternative for New Yorkers, as neither carrier flies from the expensive JFK airport.

Will the perimeter rule be lifted?

Barring any major new push, the perimeter rule will likely stay. There are plenty of political and economic concerns at play, which usually spells a tangle of red tape and lobbying before the change goes through. There seems to be little appetite for changing the rules at LaGuardia now, even with the major airport redevelopment program.

Spirit Getty
Spirit Airlines is one carrier that wants to grow at LaGuardia– once the demand environment improves. Photo: Getty Images

If the perimeter rule at LaGuardia were lifted, it would certainly lead to more flights to destinations farther away from the airport and likely at the expense of some regional destinations served to preserve slots or retain a market share at the airport.

Eliminating the perimeter rule would change the landscape at LaGuardia, and it could open up New York City-area airports to additional daily slots. It may even alleviate some congestion at New York-JFK. The issue with change would be which airlines benefit the most from it and how strong that antagonism would be against a rule change.

Do you think the perimeter rule at LaGuardia should be lifted? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments!