Could the days of short hops from small airports to airline hubs soon be replaced by bus service? This is already happening in some places and could eventually impact flyers in parts of Virginia.
Consider the case of a (hypothetical) resident who wanted to fly from Charlottesville to Houston and finds United Airlines, via its hub at Washington Dulles International Airport, as the preferred option.
The passenger usually purchases a ticket, takes a regional jet from Charlottesville to Dulles and connects to the final destination.
According to Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority CEO Jack Potter, the sticking point is the first leg of the trip, usually operated by smaller jets.
“They’re not economical, they’re bad for the environment,” Potter said at the May 18 meeting of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority’s board of directors.
The alternative that could be on its way? Go to Charlottesville Airport, go through security and tag bags (in Houston, in this hypothetical case) and hop on a secure bus for the first leg of the journey to Dulles, being dropped off at the terminal.
With rising costs and a shortage of flight crews, “it’s something that seems to be getting attention,” Potter said. “It’s easier to have bus drivers than pilots.”
The hop-on-the-bus-Gus-don’t-take-a-plane-Jane concept is already happening in places like Allentown, Pennsylvania, and Atlantic City, where passengers on American Airlines flights hop on a bus that whips up to the hub city from the airport, Philadelphia, and from there to their final destinations. And it seems to have the potential for many communities that are within 200 miles of a major hub airport.
“It’s almost a faster way,” said Airport Authority Chairman William Sudow.
“It’s great for the airlines,” added Airport Authority board member Kate Hanley.
In the Washington area, such a proposition is likely only viable for airlines that have strong hubs (“fortresses”) with a large share of connections: United at Dulles and American at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. . If, for example, a passenger from Charlottesville preferred Delta, that passenger would likely fly to Atlanta and continue.
Given that a passenger is a passenger, whether they’re arriving by plane or by bus, “we’re not necessarily freaked out,” Potter said of the possible change in operating procedures.