I wouldn't fully dismiss it. DEN and SLC can connect omnidirectionally in ways the coastal and midwest hubs can't.
Also as far as the mountain west goes, sure, it's a much smaller population, but with the much lower density, there is a greater demand for air travel in many smaller communities. Look at how UA has been able to sustain lots of RJ service into smaller airports in CO, WY, MT, NM, KS etc. whereas they've struggled in similar small cities in other, more densely populated regions.
Completely agree on both counts. DEN and SLC shouldn't be dismissed, and absolutely are valuable hubs - both because of their role in the Rocky Mountain region specifically as well as the broader connections facilitated by their geography. But even with that, the Rocky Mountain region is still the least valuable region of the U.S. from an airline standpoint, in my view.
As for EWR, Kirby is certainly right that EWR is the only NYC airport that can be a fullscale hub. With that said, if we're asking if it's UA's ATL, that's asking a loaded question. No NYC airport can be a megahub in the way ATL or CLT are, but that's not really the point anyway.
Definitely. EWR isn't ATL - wasn't meant to be, and of course never could be.
IAD probably could be a megahub for UA — if DCA were shut down (and probably if BWI didn't exist either.) But even then, if DC only had IAD, I doubt UA would have been able to run a hub out of there unchallenged from any other carrier what with it being the nation's capital with a lot of O&D.
Back in the ancient PMUA days, UA was at best an afterthought in the NYC market and had nothing else east of Chicago, so they threw much more weight into IAD. They still sling a lot of lower yielding domestic-to-Europe connections through there, but its role has been slightly reduced, in part because of the addition of EWR to UA's network.
Indeed. IAD would of course be a massive hub - in general - if DCA wasn't available as the much-preferred domestic O&D airport with far greater proximity to much of the region's most important traffic. And IAD would almost certainly be a far bigger hub - for United specifically - if United didn't have EWR. Once IAD and EWR were put together under the same airline brand, and had to coexist within the same network ecosystem, and United had the opportunity to optimize traffic (O&D and connecting) across both hubs, we saw what happened.
In terms of serving NYC proper, DL is the largest airline because LGA and JFK both are the preferred airports for NYC.
While interesting, the "NYC proper" distinction - reinforced by Delta's own marketing and trotted out all the time by Delta fans - is largely meaningless in the context of this conversation. The number of people who cross the Hudson to fly somewhere misses the broader point - NYC metro, whether it's within New York City, in New York State outside of New York City, or in New Jersey, is all still NYC metro, as defined by the Census Bureau. United is a massive presence in NYC metro, and it's the only airline that has, and quite likely will ever have, a truly unified megahub in the metro. That
is the point being made here.
Further, while Kirby rightly talks about the impact to UA from UA leaving JFK, DL serves all 3 airports and has international flights from both JFK and EWR, the only US airline to have longhaul international flights from 2 airports in the same US metro area. Depending on the month, DL is offering between 2-4% more seats from all 3 NYC airports this summer than UA is.
It's great that Delta, like AA, flies to all three major NYC metro airports. It is, in the scheme of things, fairly meaningless that Delta has branded "international flights from both JFK and EWR" and is "the only US airline to have longhaul international flights from 2 airports in the same US metro area." Both AA and United - through their metal-neutral, revenue-sharing, antitrust-immunized joint ventures - also have international flights from JFK and EWR. And by that same standard, both AA and United, with their JV partners, also have international flights out of two airports in the Bay Area, and AA also has international flights out of two airports in South Florida and DC metro. And all that, too, is largely meaningless.
Ultimately, again if given the choice in a hypothetical "clean slate" start of a notional airline from scratch with no other competitors and no restrictions on access, I'd still take United's hub at EWR any day of the week over any other airline's presence in NYC metro.
I believe that IAD will strengthen organically over the next decade as DCA maxes out.
Over the past 8 years the US-DL slot swap and subsequent US-AA merger meant that a lot of slots were divested at DCA, primarily to WN and B6 who flew larger planes at lower prices. This weakened IAD's already somewhat tenuous in-perimeter demand. Congress granting several rounds of beyond-perimeter rights further weakened domestic demand at IAD. As the largest carrier at IAD United was disproportionately affected by passengers flocking to DCA who previously made it to IAD for beyond-perimeter flight or lower fares in-perimeter.
This growth at DCA is basically over. It's unlikely there will be further divestures any time soon, and the airport is basically at capacity. Future growth will come at either IAD or BWI. Add in that NoVA is the fastest growing region of Metro DC, from where BWI is a PITA, and IAD will grow over the next decade in a way it hasn't over the last decade just by the principle of supply and demand. UA is well positioned to benefit from this, as increased demand will strengthen the regional routes necessary to run a proper omni-directional hub.
I don't disagree with the broader point, and I certainly think IAD's prospects will steadily improve as time goes on and more and more of the region's demand is naturally soaked up there out of necessity and growth specifically in NoVa. But I do question whether DCA growth is "basically over." I certainly agree that, at least as things seem to be going, DCA's grown in the next, say, five years is almost certainly going to be less than in the past five years. But with the terminal improvements going on at A and the new regional concourse, I suspect DCA still has more room for capacity growth - primarily through upgauging of mainline flying to larger aircraft, and the (continued) upgauging of more regional flying from smaller, single-class aircraft to 2-class RJs.