Ever since deregulation freed up carriers to set their own routes and frequencies without government approval, the legacy airlines have used a tried and true tactic when a new entrant started flying in their key markets: Flood the market with extra capacity in an effort to drive the newcomer out.
So it should be no surprise that United will resort to that strategy in the face of new competition from Virgin America between United’s hubs at Denver and San Francisco.
Virgin recently announced plans to start flying SFO-DEN on March 15, 2016, with three daily roundtrips. And now United has responded with a planned boost in frequency on the same route starting March 3. In January and February, United’s schedule shows eight or nine flights a day in the market, but in March it will boost that up to 14 flights a day on weekdays, according to Airlineroute.net. It will reportedly use a mix of 737-800s, A320s and 757s on the route. Flight time between the two cities is about 2.5 hours.
Airways News notes that when Virgin jumps into the market, there will be four airlines flying between Denver and San Francisco/Oakland with around 25 flights a day — a huge jump in capacity thanks to the extra eight daily frequencies from United and Virgin.
Can you say fare war? How about some spring skiing?
The other competitors are Southwest, which flies to both Oakland and SFO from Denver; and Frontier, although that ultra-low-cost carrier is reportedly planning to drop its Denver-San Francisco flights in April.
If United plans to wait out Virgin America in a battle for DEN-SFO, it might have a long wait. United tried the same strategy two years ago when Virgin started service between another pair of United hubs — San Francisco and Newark. United doubled its frequencies and fares fell by 30 percent. But Virgin is still operating three non-stops a day in that market, which was a United monopoly route before Virgin came along. Alaska Airlines also tried the same tactic — without success — when Virgin entered the Seattle market from Los Angeles and San Francisco several years ago.
With United still struggling to overcome a poor service reputation among frequent flyers that dates back to its merger with Continental, some road warriors might be glad to have another option on the SFO-Denver route (other than one-class Southwest).
“As is the case in EWR and other markets, we believe that our superior, consistent and tech-forward product and service will resonate with travelers in the Denver area,” a Virgin spokesman tells TravelSkills. “We will be the only airline with three cabins of service on every flight between SFO and DEN, and guests will also have WiFi, personal touch-screen entertainment, and on-demand food and drink every time they fly on us.”
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