Could the days of short hops from smaller airports to airline hubs soon be replaced by bus service? It’s already happening some places, and eventually could impact fliers in parts of Virginia.
Consider the case of a (hypothetical) resident who wanted to fly from Charlottesville to Houston and finds United Airlines, through its hub at Washington Dulles International Airport, to be the preferred option.
The passenger ordinarily purchases a ticket, takes a regional jet from Charlottesville to Dulles and connects on to the final destination.
The sticking point, Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority CEO Jack Potter says, is with the first leg of the journey, usually operated by smaller jet aircraft.
“They’re uneconomical, they’re bad for the environment,” Potter said during the May 18 meeting of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority’s board of director.
The alternative that could be on its way? Going to the airport at Charlottesville, clearing security and tagging the bags (to Houston, in this hypothetical case) and hopping on a secured bus for the first leg of the trip up to Dulles, being dropped at the terminal.
With costs rising and flight crews in short supply, “this is something that seems to be getting attention,” Potter said. “It’s easier to get bus drivers than pilots.”
The hop-on-the-bus-Gus-don’t-take-a-plane-Jane concept already is happening in places like Allentown (Pa.) and Atlantic City, where passengers on American Airlines flights hop on a bus that whisks them down to the airport’s focus city of Philadelphia and thence to their ultimate destinations. And it seems to have the potential for many communities that are less than 200 miles from a major hub airport.
“This is almost a quicker way,” said Airports Authority chair William Sudow.
“This is brilliant for the airlines,” added Airports Authority board member Kate Hanley.
In the Washington region, such a proposal is likely only viable for airlines that have strong (“fortress”) hubs with a large share of connections: United at Dulles and American at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. If, say, a Charlottesville passenger preferred Delta, that passenger likely would still take a flight to Atlanta and connect onward.
Given that a passenger is a passenger, whether arriving by aircraft or an airline bus, “we’re not necessarily panicked” Potter said of the possible change in operating procedures.