Changing Air Travel Routes

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Oct 18, 2012    •    721 Views

The marketplace affects where we can and cannot fly.

  • If you need to travel between Lima, Peru and Atlanta, you can thank asparagus lovers. More than passenger traffic, Delta values the route because of its asparagus cargo. (While China is by far the world’s largest asparagus producer, Peru exports the most fresh asparagus.)
  • Similarly, on its Cincinnati to Paris daily run, Delta carries enough jet parts to have saved this route when they eliminated other international flights from Cincinnati.
  • Or, if you are in the oil business, you can easily fly between Baku, Azerbaijan and Aberdeen, Scotland because the 2 cities have a business link.


Although airlines have added 37% more routes during the past decade, they are scheduling fewer flights between smaller and mid-size cities. Specifically, regions that experienced economic distress, like Detroit, Las Vegas and Phoenix have had less air traffic. (My statistics are for the 12 months preceding March, 2011.)

As one officer at the American Association of Airport Executives said, “…in the end, the bottom line is the marketplace…If the passengers [or cargo] aren’t there, it’s really hard for the airlines to justify the service.”

Some final facts: After airline deregulation in 1978, route decisions changed radically. Pre-1978, I was able to fly non-stop from LaGuardia in NYC to Peoria, Illinois on relatively empty Ozark Airlines planes. Airlines competed through service and schedule. The inefficiency was okay because the government let airlines charge high enough fares to cover their costs.

Not any more. Now, by deciding where we can and cannot fly, the marketplace oversees efficiency.

Sources and Resources: This WSJ article describes some of “The World’s Oddest Air Routes” while here, the NY Times provides more insight about changes in air travel. In addition, for an excellent interactive graphic, “20 Years of the U.S. Domestic Airline Market in 20 Seconds,” I suggest this website.

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