Although airlines have been forced to reduce flights by about 20 percent at Washington's National Airport because of the strike by the air traffic controllers and their subsequent firing, they have shown little interest in adding services at underused Dulles International Airport, which is unaffected by federal flight restrictions.
At the same time, its area rival, Baltimore/Washington International Airport, also unaffected by the restrictions, continues to attract new airlines and new services.
Last week, BWI won another round when New York Air announced that it will begin new low-fare services from BWI to Boston and Orlando, Fla., on Dec. 1.
In announcing the new services, New York Air President Neal Meehan said that the airline would be adding significant services to BWI in the future, making it a second "hub" outside New York on its route system.
Meehan said that the strike-related flight cutbacks, particularly at New York's LaGuardia Airport, had forced the New York-based airline to accelerate by 10 to 24 months its strategic planning to develop another hub. It can't be Washington's National Airport, he told a press conference at BWI, since the airline's ability to grow at National would be restricted severely by the government's plan to reduce commercial flight activity there.
Dulles was considered but was rejected for the new services, Meehan said, because NYA would have wanted a New York-Dulles-Florida service pattern but couldn't get additional operating rights at LaGuardia, the airport it wanted to use. "As we grow, though, we do have an opportunity to use all three Washington-area airports," he added.
Meehan didn't disclose what routes might be added from BWI, saying only they would be to the "north, west and south." However, good bets might be some of the cities the airline already serves, including Cleveland, Cincinnati, Detroit, Buffalo, Newark and Louisville.
New York Air's fares on its two new routes will provide travelers savings of up to 55 percent off the coach fares of the other airlines. Flights to Orlando will cost $59 and $79 each way, depending on the day and time of flight, compared with the lowest available capacity-controlled December coach fare of $135 each way on the other airlines. NYA will charge $45 and $65 on its flights to Boston, also depending on the day and time of flight, compared with a $98 coach fare on other airlines.
People Express Airlines, another low-fare carrier, which began service at BWI in July, also announced last week that it would begin new daily round trips to West Palm Beach on Dec. 1, charging $59 each way weekdays and $79 each way weekends.
Along with its new service to Orlando, NYA will begin an experimental program requiring passengers making reservations by phone to give the agent his or her credit card number. If the customer fails to show up for a reserved flight without canceling the reservation, the passenger will be billed $20.
The program is designed to overcome the very high no-show rates airlines have suffered, ranging up to 50 percent for some Florida services. "If we can encourage more people who change their travel plans to call us back and change their reservations, then we can sell their unused seats to other passengers," Meehan said. "Not carrying empty seats to Orlando means we save money, and when we save money, the passenger saves money because we pass it along in the form of the lowest possible air fares."
Many other airlines also have begun to charge penalty fees when they are asked to refund unused discount tickets of passengers who either cancel their reservations or don't show up for their flights.