Three North Florida cities are set to lose their only direct air links to the national capital this summer as American Airlines (following the merger with US Airways, the merged airline being referred to as AA/US here on out in this article) has opted to cut US Airways current routes from Washington’s Reagan National Airport to Fort Walton Beach/Destin, Pensacola and Tallahassee. North Florida residents will have to connect in Miami, Charlotte or Dallas/Fort Worth on the airline or drive to Jacksonville or New Orleans to fly directly to Washington D.C. The only remaining nonstop service from the Panhandle to the Washington area is Southwest Airlines flight from Panama City to Baltimore/Washington International Airport which is connected to Downtown DC via the MARC train line.
In January, following the merger’s approval by the Department of Justice (DOJ) we discussed the potential route cuts. Following up on that article we have dates now for the cuts by AA/US and can confirm that the slots divested by cutting these routes have been used by JetBlue to enhance its existing service from Washington to Fort Lauderdale and Orlando by adding new nonstop service to Tampa/St Pete and by Southwest to begin nonstop service to Fort Myers. In other words, North Florida is losing air service to the capital while peninsular Florida gets more. Additionally, despite being forced to divest slot pairs by DOJ, AA/US has been rumored to be contemplating additional Washington service to Orlando, Fort Lauderdale and Miami. The combined airline already flies each of these routes nonstop at least five times daily. In the cases of Fort Lauderdale and Orlando, JetBlue also runs three daily nonstop service to the capital and is looking to add more flights from both airports to Reagan National Airport.
We have dates now for the end of service to the three North Florida airports:
Fort Walton Beach ends June 4th. Passengers will have to fly via Charlotte.
Tallahassee ends June 18th. Passengers will have to fly via Charlotte, Dallas/Fort Worth or Miami.
Pensacola ends Tallahassee July 1st. Passengers will have to fly via Charlotte, Dallas/Fort Worth or Miami.
The DOJ has an obligation in a growing anti-competitive environment to protect vital air service from small airports. Rapidly increasing air service to Orlando, Fort Lauderdale and to a lesser extent Tampa/St Pete over the last 10 years has been offset by continued cuts to smaller airports such as the three North Florida airports mentioned as well as Melbourne, Daytona Beach, Sarasota and West Palm Beach.
By allowing airline slots reserved to provide service to smaller cities, to be transferred to markets which already have plenty of Washington DC service the DOJ is doing itself something which is unfair and anti-competitive, allowing fares to rise from smaller cities and cutting vital business ties to the capital.
We will continue to track this developing story.