Top Hubs and Focus Cities In January: American Vs. Delta Vs United

As the new year approaches, we examine 30 US hubs and focus cities in January across American, Delta, and United. We use four different measurements, each providing quite different results. How does your preferred airline or airport rank?

American Airlines Airbus A321-231 N113AN
American’s leading hub in January (by flights, ASMs, and seats) is Dallas Fort Worth. The Texas airport has more departures than any other hub, even Delta at Atlanta. Dallas also has <1% fewer ASMs. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying.

US hubs and focus cities: a summary

There are large numbers of ways to analyze hubs. For this brief article about American, Delta, and United in January 2022, seats, available seat miles (ASMs; one seat flown one mile), flights, and seats per flight are considered using Cirium data. Each measure provides a different look at core hubs and focus cities.

As you’d expect, Delta’s Atlanta hub leads by flights and ASMs. However, it is American at Dallas that is number-one if flights are considered, helped by 20% fewer seats per frequency than Atlanta.

American has more airports in the top-10 by seats than Delta or United, helped by having more hubs/focus cities and being the world’s leading carrier by that measure. However, United is first if ASMs are considered, and joint-first with American for flights. United’s strong presence by flights is helped by having the fewest seats per flight of all three carriers (if Guam, quite an outlier, is excluded).

Hub (airline)Seats (departing) in January 2022ASMs (departing) in January 2022Flights (departing) in January 2022Seats per flight
Atlanta (Delta)3,440,5683,139,129,07421,686159
Dallas Fort Worth (American)2,889,9212,981,944,60022,638128
Charlotte (American)2,033,8771,478,951,28317,366117
Miami (American)1,719,8592,117,477,60710,595162
Newark (United)1,488,4812,472,189,40311,078134
Houston Intercontinental (United)1,470,7251,690,941,17712,710116
Denver (United)1,440,7291,432,936,16812,865112
Chicago O'Hare (United)1,371,2601,581,579,01012,935106
Minneapolis (Delta)1,071,9711,100,099,1428,670124
Chicago O'Hare (American)1,059,256952,600,0009,790108
Detroit (Delta)1,048,9221,003,016,9149,021116
Phoenix (American)910,3521,003,897,6656,726135
Salt Lake City (Delta)857,965863,345,4316,874125
San Francisco (United)825,2431,583,278,2265,965138
New York JFK (Delta)739,2881,291,327,1725,101145
Philadelphia (American)717,280744,531,5066,221115
Washington National (American)705,747458,404,1487,46695
Washington Dulles (United)705,389917,930,5176,358111
New York LaGuardia (Delta)672,308472,920,2526,673101
Los Angeles (American)588,4901,033,885,0953,842153
Los Angeles (Delta)579,701948,439,6863,988145
Los Angeles (United)527,407919,012,6843,540149
Seattle (Delta)502,456758,779,9783,828131
New York LaGuardia (American)484,241371,862,5774,407110
New York JFK (American)464,769885,014,4023,279142
Boston (Delta)389,752424,724,4793,224121
Boston (American)311,357318,651,3042,246139
Austin (American)304,699270,835,6022,290133
Raleigh Durham (Delta)168,957118,859,4871,421119
Guam (United)30,27261,232,894148205

American’s Charlotte hub

American’s North Carolina hub stands out. With over two million departing seats, it is the USA’s third-busiest hub. It also ranks third by flights but it is just eighth (and nearly ninth) by ASMs.

It ranks far lower for ASMs because it has just 117 seats per flight, reflecting a significant use of regional jets. Everyone knows how crucial RJs typically are at US hubs to enable higher frequencies and consequently more competitiveness, dominance, and the higher chance of timings suiting a passenger’s needs. This should result in higher revenue per ASM.

Of American’s 17,366 departures from Charlotte in January, some 8,836 – or one in every two – are by RJs, especially the CRJ-900, CRJ-700, and the 50-seat Embraer 145. American Eagle will use its RJs to 106 airports from Charlotte, Cirium shows, with the 75-mile (121km) link to Greenville Spartanburg having the most flights. It is Charlotte’s heavy use of RJs and a short average sector length of 592 miles (953km) that accounts for far fewer ASMs.

American's RJ routes from Charlotte in January 2022
All of these routes will see at least some RJ flights from Charlotte in January. Image: GCMap.

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Delta’s significant seats per flight at Atlanta

Although marginally beaten by American at Miami, Delta has 159 seats per flight, a significant amount for US hubs and focus cities, especially as so many flights are domestic. It is over one-fifth (22%) higher than the average of the 30 airports examined.

RJs have just a 15.6% share of Delta’s Atlanta departures, down by about half versus January 2015. Indeed, the carrier has increasingly upgauged Atlanta, with the economic benefits that result, helped by the withdrawal of the MD-80 series, the previous leading aircraft at the hub. Meanwhile, the A321 and B737-900ER, both large narrowbodies, have become Delta’s top-two types at its Georgia hub.

Which is your favorite hub or focus city mentioned in this article and why? Let us know in the comments.