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Could UA have built up SEA into a hub?

Posted: Tue Jan 22, 2019 3:54 am
by intotheair
This is one of those hypothetical, stream-of-consciousness threads that never go out of style on here...

I think it's interesting to think back how UA was more or less the default major carrier at SEA up until the late 2000s. Yes, AS is the hometown airline and has been the primary carrier at SEA for decades. But for a while, UA had a decent amount of destinations from SEA (mostly on UAX/Skywest) and some international. UA kept flying SEA-NRT even up until early 2014.

Do you think UA could have propped up its presence enough at SEA post-merger in order to keep DL from building an international gateway and hub there? On one hand, perhaps it would have duplicated SFO, but on the other, maybe it would have kept a nice reliever option in the UA network.

Re: Could UA have built up SEA into a hub?

Posted: Tue Jan 22, 2019 4:01 am
by rph99
Considering delta pulls it off with SLC, I can’t imagine SFO would have been a big issue for UA.

The demand was there. I think UA had poor management at the time and missed out on a big opportunity.

Re: Could UA have built up SEA into a hub?

Posted: Tue Jan 22, 2019 4:07 am
by dcajet
Coulda, woulda, shoulda... Water under the bridge. Also, lets not forget PM UA was in no shape to open new hubs with their lengthy Chapter 11 stay; after the merger one could argue it was a missed opportunity but then, the merger was not an easy pill to swallow as we've all seen.

Re: Could UA have built up SEA into a hub?

Posted: Tue Jan 22, 2019 4:12 am
by crescent
No, any attempt to do Pacific flights at SEA (except for the longtime NRT flight (UA 875/876) given NRT was its own hub) would have cannibalized SFO & LAX. The idea that UA was the "default major carrier" is a farce given the existence of AS. Where did UA ever fly from SEA that was not a hub anyway? Does SMF or SAN or ABQ have a default major carrier? The only way SEA would ever become a hub for UA is if UAL bought ALK.

Re: Could UA have built up SEA into a hub?

Posted: Tue Jan 22, 2019 4:37 am
by IPFreely
intotheair wrote:
I think it's interesting to think back how UA was more or less the default major carrier at SEA up until the late 2000s.


This chart from the late 2000's doesn't look like the market share of a default major carrier:

Image
Source: https://leehamnews.com/2014/07/01/alask ... southwest/

Any expansion by UA at SEA would have cannibalized their dominant positions at SFO (for TPAC flights) and to a lesser extent, DEN. UA is much better off maintaining their dominant position in SFO and letting DL be a distant #2 in SEA.

Re: Could UA have built up SEA into a hub?

Posted: Tue Jan 22, 2019 4:52 am
by N649DL
dcajet wrote:
Coulda, woulda, shoulda... Water under the bridge. Also, lets not forget PM UA was in no shape to open new hubs with their lengthy Chapter 11 stay; after the merger one could argue it was a missed opportunity but then, the merger was not an easy pill to swallow as we've all seen.


Depends on when. During the Dot Com boom, UAL IIRC believed the future of the airline's Business Traffic was largely going to be based on the West Coast ("Shuttle by UA," heavy LAX dominance, plus a large hub at SFO, and Focus City at SEA.) That all changed within years when the bubble did burst and SFO traffic got affected heavily.

Although both LAX and SFO got downsized in Chapter 11, they never got to the point of being completely de-hubbed or lose Focus City status. Initially those that were affected were MIA, JFK and EWR. SEA came much later after the merger because of cost cutting measures and it's very senior SEA base. Essentially whatever dominance UA had at SEA was killed off by Smisek around 2012-2013 in trying to cut costs and DL swooped in.

UA had a nice focus city at SEA for years and essentially trashed it on a few years back. They even had a feeder network out of there on UAEX, same deal with LAS as well.

Re: Could UA have built up SEA into a hub?

Posted: Tue Jan 22, 2019 5:17 am
by N174UA
Interesting thread! I recall well when UA was strong (though not a "default hub") in SEA. I worked for UA in the summer of '96, and I lived in the area for 20 years, so I have knowledge of the SEA market.

UA used to completely "own" the north satellite...DC-10, 747 service on domestic routes to its hubs. Service to destinations like LHR, JFK, BOS (I think), and NRT. At one point in the early-mid-1980s, they served HKG with 747SP/DC-10-30. LHR was served nonstop for a short time with a 763. Flight 928/929 was a 747-200 in Summer '96. Flight 333 (ORD-SEA) was a 744.

From what I witnessed, AS expanded very quickly in SEA, and along with WN, that was a 1-2 punch against UA in the rapidly growing west coast market. UA simply couldn't compete with either carrier on cost, despite their attempt with "Shuttle by United" to SFO and LAX.

UA is a shell of its former self, and short of a departure from a major airline at SEA, I wouldn't expect them to try to restore their former glory, especially with the congestion and construction at SEA now. Interestingly enough, UA is expanding its presence in the SEA area by adding service to SFO and DEN from PAE. Further east in Washington state, UA is adding a nonstop from PSC-LAX in March, which will be flown with E175.

I also think it will be interesting to see where DL stands in the SEA market in 10 years. They are trying to make SEA a hub, and have expanded rapidly, but are now constrained by both gate space and the limits of the existing FIS facility. They're facing increasing competition internationally, both on the NRT flight and to Europe. They are up gauging NRT to an A359, but will be competing against both Japanese airlines on the route, whereas UA used to compete against NW and AA in SEA. HKG was cut, but they are adding back KIX. SQ is starting a nonstop to SIN later this year, putting pressure on the 763 add-on from NRT. And it remains to be seen what happens with the NRT route i.e. will it be moved to HND

Re: Could UA have built up SEA into a hub?

Posted: Tue Jan 22, 2019 5:37 am
by SCFlyer
N649DL wrote:
Although both LAX and SFO got downsized in Chapter 11, they never got to the point of being completely de-hubbed or lose Focus City status. Initially those that were affected were MIA, JFK and EWR. SEA came much later after the merger because of cost cutting measures and it's very senior SEA base. Essentially whatever dominance UA had at SEA was killed off by Smisek around 2012-2013 in trying to cut costs and DL swooped in.


From what I recall, EWR and JFK were termed as "International Gateways" by UA, they were really never termed as "hubs" of the sort. This was despite UA owning some of the gates (and at one point was the major tenant/occupied the larger pier of the old T9 at JFK before moving out for BA's T7 in the early 90s).

JFK/EWR was most a O&D Focus City with a crew base at those 2 NY area airports at the peak of the operations at both airports.

Re: Could UA have built up SEA into a hub?

Posted: Tue Jan 22, 2019 6:53 am
by intotheair
IPFreely wrote:
intotheair wrote:
I think it's interesting to think back how UA was more or less the default major carrier at SEA up until the late 2000s.


This chart from the late 2000's doesn't look like the market share of a default major carrier:


I suppose I should have clarified that anything special from UA at SEA was pretty much gone by the late 2000s (aside from the NRT flight and maybe some UAX flights,) but it would be interesting to see a similar chart for the early to mid 2000s.

N174UA wrote:
Interesting thread! I recall well when UA was strong (though not a "default hub") in SEA. I worked for UA in the summer of '96, and I lived in the area for 20 years, so I have knowledge of the SEA market.

UA used to completely "own" the north satellite...DC-10, 747 service on domestic routes to its hubs. Service to destinations like LHR, JFK, BOS (I think), and NRT. At one point in the early-mid-1980s, they served HKG with 747SP/DC-10-30. LHR was served nonstop for a short time with a 763. Flight 928/929 was a 747-200 in Summer '96. Flight 333 (ORD-SEA) was a 744.

From what I witnessed, AS expanded very quickly in SEA, and along with WN, that was a 1-2 punch against UA in the rapidly growing west coast market. UA simply couldn't compete with either carrier on cost, despite their attempt with "Shuttle by United" to SFO and LAX.

UA is a shell of its former self, and short of a departure from a major airline at SEA, I wouldn't expect them to try to restore their former glory, especially with the congestion and construction at SEA now. Interestingly enough, UA is expanding its presence in the SEA area by adding service to SFO and DEN from PAE. Further east in Washington state, UA is adding a nonstop from PSC-LAX in March, which will be flown with E175.


Thanks for sharing! I think it's interesting how a lot of whatever UA had at SEA at its peak is really just forgotten. Plenty of people on here remember when UA was trying to make something happen at JFK or the pieces of Pan AM that it inherited at MIA, but UA's once-larger presence at SEA seems like a footnote now.

Re: Could UA have built up SEA into a hub?

Posted: Tue Jan 22, 2019 2:42 pm
by PlanesNTrains
Mid-80’s to perhaps early 90’s there was a much larger presence. I flew or was scheduled on SEARNO, SEAOAK, SEASMF, SEALAX, etc. AS/WN usurped that role pretty good.

Re: Could UA have built up SEA into a hub?

Posted: Tue Jan 22, 2019 2:54 pm
by STT757
Well things worked out, UA retrenched their West Coast position to SFO where they are doing some amazing things. From SFO UA is flying to places like Chengdu, Melbourne, Papeete, Singapore, Sydney, Tel Aviv, Delhi, Zurich etc.. None of which exist from SEA on any carrier, although SQ will start SEA in September.

Re: Could UA have built up SEA into a hub?

Posted: Tue Jan 22, 2019 3:05 pm
by blockski
rph99 wrote:
Considering delta pulls it off with SLC, I can’t imagine SFO would have been a big issue for UA.

The demand was there. I think UA had poor management at the time and missed out on a big opportunity.


SLC and SFO play completely different roles. SLC is a domestic hub, SFO is an international gateway.

For Delta, they're using SEA as their gateway and SLC as their western hub, much like how UA uses SFO and DEN. The longer-term case for UA to have SFO and SEA as gateways is a lot tougher to make.

In an ideal world, UA wouldn't have shrank so much after the merger (and thus wouldn't be trying to claw back market share now), but the decisions they made re: SEA seem completely defensible to me.

Re: Could UA have built up SEA into a hub?

Posted: Tue Jan 22, 2019 3:11 pm
by kavok
It was probably just a matter of time before AA or DL would have decided to try make SEA a hub. Obviously DL beat AA to it.

But in either scenario, the battle would not have been worth it to UA to duke if out with AS and DL or AA... especially with the SFO hub being the primary TPAC gateway.

Don’t forget also there is a major star alliance hub just to the north at YVR.

Re: Could UA have built up SEA into a hub?

Posted: Tue Jan 22, 2019 3:15 pm
by RWA380
PlanesNTrains wrote:
Mid-80’s to perhaps early 90’s there was a much larger presence. I flew or was scheduled on SEARNO, SEAOAK, SEASMF, SEALAX, etc. AS/WN usurped that role pretty good.



Maybe even a bit earlier in the 80’s, but you remember that both SEA & PDX were both UA dominated cites. Most people forget AS didn’t even fly to Portland until the late 70’s.

IAD, BOI, SLC, MCI, JFK, SFO, OAK, SJC, RNO, SMF, SAN, LAX, IAD, DEN, ORD, HNL, YVR & PDX were all non-stop in 1979.

IAD, ANC, ORD, DFW, DEN, HNL, OGG, JFK, LAX, PDX, SFO, SAN & YVR were non-stop in 1985.

ANC, ORD, DEN, HNL, LAX, JFK, OAK, SNA, PDX, SMF, SAN, SFO, GEG, YVR & IAD IN 1989.

By 1991 UA had added the express flights on J31’s & Brasilias BLI, EUG, PSC & YKM were added & PDX & GEG had switched from mainline service, BOI was re-added after a several year absence.

Re: Could UA have built up SEA into a hub?

Posted: Tue Jan 22, 2019 5:46 pm
by drdisque
Remember that all the UA Skywest flights at SEA were at-risk by Skywest and operated by E-120's. They would have been gone one way or the other as the E-120's were retired.

Re: Could UA have built up SEA into a hub?

Posted: Tue Jan 22, 2019 8:08 pm
by olddominion727
the also flew SEASJC. they tried for about 6mos. AS buried them, so did Continental West

Re: Could UA have built up SEA into a hub?

Posted: Tue Jan 22, 2019 8:36 pm
by N649DL
SCFlyer wrote:
N649DL wrote:
Although both LAX and SFO got downsized in Chapter 11, they never got to the point of being completely de-hubbed or lose Focus City status. Initially those that were affected were MIA, JFK and EWR. SEA came much later after the merger because of cost cutting measures and it's very senior SEA base. Essentially whatever dominance UA had at SEA was killed off by Smisek around 2012-2013 in trying to cut costs and DL swooped in.


From what I recall, EWR and JFK were termed as "International Gateways" by UA, they were really never termed as "hubs" of the sort. This was despite UA owning some of the gates (and at one point was the major tenant/occupied the larger pier of the old T9 at JFK before moving out for BA's T7 in the early 90s).

JFK/EWR was most a O&D Focus City with a crew base at those 2 NY area airports at the peak of the operations at both airports.


Yeah you're correct. EWR and JFK were bases with some on and off UAEX flying, JFK more than EWR with some random Upstate NY routes around 1999-2000. JFK and MIA had more International flying as well whereas EWR it was just the LHR flight by the Early 2000s. At EWR they operated solely out of all of the Satellite A-1 concourse until the base closure in 2006.

Re: Could UA have built up SEA into a hub?

Posted: Fri Apr 19, 2019 4:30 am
by strfyr51
intotheair wrote:
This is one of those hypothetical, stream-of-consciousness threads that never go out of style on here...

I think it's interesting to think back how UA was more or less the default major carrier at SEA up until the late 2000s. Yes, AS is the hometown airline and has been the primary carrier at SEA for decades. But for a while, UA had a decent amount of destinations from SEA (mostly on UAX/Skywest) and some international. UA kept flying SEA-NRT even up until early 2014.

Do you think UA could have propped up its presence enough at SEA post-merger in order to keep DL from building an international gateway and hub there? On one hand, perhaps it would have duplicated SFO, but on the other, maybe it would have kept a nice reliever option in the UA network.

United had SEA NRT and SEA HKG before the Pan Am Pacific division purchase. And. SEA was a growing station and could have become a Gateway Hub. Once the pacific division was acquired? I guess the DOT decided that the SEA hub was overkill and took the Route Authorities out of SEA away. They were awarded to American, Then Continental. Neither of them did much with them. But SEA was going to be built into a Hub had we kept the SEA-NRT and SEA-HKG flights We had leased 2 CP Air DC10-30's for those flights.

Re: Could UA have built up SEA into a hub?

Posted: Fri Apr 19, 2019 3:59 pm
by ER757
strfyr51 wrote:
intotheair wrote:
This is one of those hypothetical, stream-of-consciousness threads that never go out of style on here...

I think it's interesting to think back how UA was more or less the default major carrier at SEA up until the late 2000s. Yes, AS is the hometown airline and has been the primary carrier at SEA for decades. But for a while, UA had a decent amount of destinations from SEA (mostly on UAX/Skywest) and some international. UA kept flying SEA-NRT even up until early 2014.

Do you think UA could have propped up its presence enough at SEA post-merger in order to keep DL from building an international gateway and hub there? On one hand, perhaps it would have duplicated SFO, but on the other, maybe it would have kept a nice reliever option in the UA network.

United had SEA NRT and SEA HKG before the Pan Am Pacific division purchase. And. SEA was a growing station and could have become a Gateway Hub. Once the pacific division was acquired? I guess the DOT decided that the SEA hub was overkill and took the Route Authorities out of SEA away. They were awarded to American, Then Continental. Neither of them did much with them. But SEA was going to be built into a Hub had we kept the SEA-NRT and SEA-HKG flights We had leased 2 CP Air DC10-30's for those flights.

Where did the 747-SP go out of SEA? It was a short time frame that is was here and a long time ago so memory is hazy on my part. I want to say it was HKG but could be wrong