Scanning the lists of carriers serving DCA and IAD, and trying to plan yet another trip as cheaply as possible, I realized exactly how few low-fare options people have in the Washington market.
Dulles sees only four low-fare carriers, Air Tran, MetroJet, Delta Express and Sun Country, with nonstops to just a few destinations (Atlanta, Chicago, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Raliegh/Durham and Florida). National is even worse, with just ATA to Chicago and Midway to Raliegh/Durham. I find this surprising.
Some might argue that Southwest's service out of BWI provides Washington with dozens of low-fare options. While I love Southwest, and just got back from travelling with them this weekend, schlepping up to BWI just is not time efficient for the 2 million people (like me) who live on the Virginia side of the Potomac, closer to National and Dulles Airport. It takes me a good hour and a half to get out to BWI for a flight, when it only takes 20 minutes to go to IAD or DCA via the Dulles Access Road or the Metro.
What's really surprising is that Dulles hasn't attracted dozens of suitors for low-fare service, both from existing carriers and new start ups. I can understand why this has not happened largely at National, with the slot restrictions and still-limited gate space, but Dulles has capacity that is yet to be fully utilized. At the very minimum, low-fare carriers could use the M gates that seem to have been abandoned by airlines like Delta in favor of the A/B concourse.
We really haven't seen Dulles as a low-fare hub since ValuJet started with their major expansion effort in 1995/1996, when they had service to Atlanta, Raliegh, Montreal, Boston, Chicago, Hartford, and quite a few florida cities. When the crash occurred in '97, ValuJet stepped off those routes and closed down the IAD hub. Why this happened, I have no idea. But with the exception of MetroJet (which seems to have picked up many of these routes), no
What we really need at IAD is a Southwest-type low-fare, no-frills airline that bases itself here and gives competitive fares to those of United, the dominant giant at Dulles. Low-fare international service, like ValuJet's Montreal flights, to Canada and Mexico would similarly be needed. One could start such an airline with 737NG's or surplus 737-200/500s and run the Southwest formula for success. I know I'd fly such a carrier in a heartbeat.