U.S. demands Delta, US Airways sell National, LaGuardia slots

By Sholnn Freeman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 5, 2010

U.S. transportation regulators are demanding that Delta Air Lines and US Airways auction off landing and takeoff slots at Reagan National Airport, creating a potential opening at the airport for Southwest Airlines.

Last year, US Airways agreed to trade 140 slots at New York's LaGuardia Airport for 42 National slots owned by Delta. In February, regulators told the airlines that it would approve the deal if the two airlines agreed to give up 14 slots at National and 20 slots at LaGuardia.

Delta and US Airways balked. Slots at the two busy airports are considered valuable among airlines. National slots are especially in demand because travelers like the airport's proximity to downtown Washington. Southwest, which operates a big base at Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport, has unsuccessfully sought a presence at National for years.

In March, US Airways and Delta offered to transfer 4 1/2 slots at National and 15 at LaGuardia to smaller airlines, not as many as the government had demanded.

In a statement yesterday, the U.S. Department of Transportation said the counteroffer would be "insufficient to preserve competition" at the two airports. Regulators want the two airlines to conduct a "blind sale" of the National and LaGuardia slots to airlines that have little or no service at the airports.

A Delta spokesman said the airline was "disappointed" with the government's decision and was reviewing its options. A US Airways spokesman said the company was reviewing the decision.

In a joint statement in March, Delta and US Airways said they would abandon the original deal if regulators pressured them to give up more slots.

Southwest officials cheered the decision.

"This is exactly what Southwest was hoping for, and although we don't know ultimately what will happen, this is good news for consumers," Robert Kneisley, Southwest's associate general counsel, said in a statement.

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