Virgin America has picked up eight departure and landing spots at Washington's Reagan National Airport, widening its footprint at the tightly constrained gateway to the nation's capital.
The carrier joins its lower-cost peers, Southwest and JetBlue, in picking up the coveted slots that American and US Airways had to agree to give up at Reagan National to clear the way for their mega-merger.
"In response to the creation of now four mega-airlines, the Justice Department has taken important steps to allow some new entrant competition in major markets,'' David Cush, president and CEO of Virgin America, said in a statement. "The latest opportunity allows us to significantly expand our network.''
American and US Airways agreed to give up 52 pairs of spots at Reagan airport and 17 pairs of takeoff and landing slots at La Guardia to settle a lawsuit that threatened to derail their planned merger. The Justice Department and several state attorney generals filed the suit out of concern that yet another mega-sized airline tie-up would lead to higher ticket prices and fewer travel choices for consumers.
Virgin America, along with Southwest, gained 34 takeoff and landing slots at New York's La Guardia Airport. And JetBlue announced last month that its request for 12 pairs of slots at Reagan National had been accepted. Southwest's bid for 27 slot pairs at Reagan National was also accepted.
Additionally, JetBlue had previously been leasing 16 takeoff and landing spots at Reagan National from American, which will become theirs permanently as a result of the Justice Department settlement.
La Guardia and Reagan are two of the few airports in the U.S. where takeoff and landing spots are restricted, making those slots highly coveted by the airlines. Reagan also has another quirk. Most of its flights are limited to a range of 1,250 miles. Virgin America's home base of San Francisco falls beyond that range, but Congress has allowed some exemptions in the past decade.
"It's great news for Virgin America that they have these extra slots because it will allow the airline to increase its presence in one of the most important cities in the country and it does increase the level of low-fare airline competition at Reagan,'' says Henry Harteveldt, travel industry analyst with Hudson Crossing.
However, he noted that eight additional slots isn't a huge number, and so they will not "make Virgin America a major player at the airport.'' And if the carrier doesn't receive an exemption to the so-called "perimeter'' rule, it will need to fly to a destination within the permitted range rather than increasing flights between Reagan National and California.
Virgin America spokeswoman Abby Lunardini said, "We are not asking for an exception. However, we will plan to announce the updates to our network based on these slot acquisitions later this month.''
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