US DOT Allows Airlines To Drop More Cities From Their Networks

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In an order issued May 22nd, the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) authorized airlines to remove additional cities from their network while still being in line with obligations tied to government aid. After a few weeks of back-and-forth between the DOT and airlines, the DOT allowed airlines to submit exemption requests for up to five percent of their points of service obligation or five points– whichever is larger. Here are the exemptions.

American Airlines reduces international capacity with 10% due to coronavirus
The new exemptions will allow airlines to drop inefficient routings and low-demand routes. Photo: Getty Images

The criteria for additional DOT exemptions

The primary reason why airlines had to maintain minimum service levels was to avoid cities– especially smaller ones– from being cut off from the rest of the world. However, given reduced demand and stay-at-home orders, it also was not practical or environmentally friendly to have multiple airlines flying empty flights to cities across the US.

Southwest Airlines plane
Southwest did not submit exemption requests. Photo: Getty Images

So, the DOT announced that it would take requests from airlines for which cities they want to drop from their route networks. The rules were simple. No airport that currently sees passenger service should lose all air service or remain underserved. In the case of certain routes, the DOT would look at other factors. For example, how great of a priority that point is for the airline, frequencies to the airport, and the number of other obligations.

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The new exemptions

Fifteen airlines received exemptions. This means that they are exempt from maintaining service to these airports. Here is the list of major airlines and airports in alphabetical order:

Alaska Airlines

  • Charleston, South Carolina
  • Columbus, Ohio
  • El Paso, Texas
  • New Orleans, Louisiana
  • San Antonio, Texas
Alaska A320
Alaska received five exemptions. Photo: Getty Images

Allegiant Air:

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  • New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Ogdensburg, New York
  • Palm Springs, California
  • San Antonio, Texas
  • Springfield, Illinois
  • Tucson, Arizona

American Airlines:

  • Aspen, Colorado
  • Eagle, Colorado
  • Montrose, Colorado
  • Worcester, Massachusetts

Delta Air Lines:

  • Aspen, Colorado
  • Bangor, Maine
  • Erie, Pennsylvania
  • Flint, Michigan
  • Fort Smith, Arkansas
  • Lincoln, Nebraska
  • New Bern/Morehead/Beaufort, North Carolina
  • Peoria, Illinois
  • Santa Barbara, California
  • Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania
  • Willison, North Dakota
Delta 737
Delta received 11 exemptions. Photo: Getty Images

Frontier Airlines:

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  • Greenville/Spartanburg, South Carolina
  • Mobile, Alabama
  • Palm Springs, California
  • Portland, Maine
  • Tyler, Texas

JetBlue Airways:

  • Albuquerque, New Mexico
  • Palm Springs, California
  • Sacramento, California
  • Sarasota/Bradenton, Florida
  • Worcester, Massachusetts
Jetblue A320 getty
JetBlue received exemptions at five additional airports. Photo: Getty Images

Spirit:

  • Asheville, North Carolina
  • Charlotte Amalie, Virgin Islands
  • Christiansted, Virgin Islands
  • Greensboro/High Point, North Carolina
  • Plattsburgh, New York

Sun Country Airlines:

  • Madison, Wisconsin
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Portland, Oregon
  • Sacramento, California
  • St. Louis, Missouri

United Airlines:

  • Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton, Pennsylvania
  • Charlotte Amalie, Virgin Islands
  • Chattanooga, Tennessee
  • Fairbanks, Alaska
  • Hilton Head, South Carolina
  • Ithaca/Cortland, New York
  • Kalamazoo, Michigan
  • Key West, Florida
  • Lansing, Michigan
  • Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
  • Rochester, Minnesota
united-express-crj200-getty
United can drop some regional destinations like Rochester, MN. Photo: Getty Images

What this means for airlines

Many of the major airlines have received exemptions for smaller cities in the United States, where airlines were only flying a few passengers each day– if any. American Airlines, in particular, was operating a regional jet between Aspen and Vail on an inefficient routing to comply with minimum service obligations.

American Eagle
American flew a regional jet on a 29-mile flight before these exemptions. Photo: Getty Images

Airlines like Sun Country, Allegiant, and Spirit that primarily cater to leisure passengers have already received some exemptions. These will eliminate additional points where people may not be flying. Furthermore, the stations where these airlines can now drop service are previously served by multiple major airlines.

These service suspensions can run through September 30th– the length of the government aid. However, even if an airline has received exemptions, the carrier can reinstate service for small periods of time if demand improves. This is more of an insurance plan for airlines to cut some costs.

How do you feel about these waivers? Let us know in the comments!

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