As U.S. airlines return to a banked hub system, economic advantages are overshadowing potential pitfalls.
Even before its merger with US Airways was complete, American Airlines began to return to “banked” scheduling of flights at hubs in Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), Miami International Airport (MIA) and O’Hare International Airport (ORD). The advantages of a banked hub system for both passengers and the airline became immediately apparent. For passengers, layovers were greatly reduced and for the airline, manpower and equipment were put to use with greater efficiency allowing for more passengers on fewer flights throughout the day.
United Airlines and Delta Air Lines have also moved toward banked flight scheduling in varying degrees, with Delta maintaining a continuous hub scheduling system at its largest hub at Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL).
The legacy carriers largely abandoned the banked hub system following increased security measures put in place after the 9/11 attacks. Major carriers gravitated instead toward a “continuous hub” system, in which connecting flights were spread throughout the day.
A study released this month by masFlight, an aviation analytics firm founded in 2010, noted that while the return to banked hubs may help the bottom line, the banked hub practice of densely scheduling arriving and departing flights to streamline connecting flights at busy hubs, also has to potential to leave passengers stranded at hub airports.
The report found that previous experiences with banked flights resulted in a “significant revenue increase,” but noted that banked flights have in the past been responsible for “massive flight delays.” The study pointed to incidents when “bad weather creates delays, cancellations and divisions resulting in a ripple effect through out the network.” The study warns that those massive flight delays have the potential to be even worse in the future, given the greater percentage of full and nearly full flights in the sky today.
The masFlight report concluded that while a domino effect of delayed flights and stranded passengers has not occurred while the airlines move towards banked scheduling, the possibility remains a real concern.
The study notes that the consolidation of US airlines, larger airport capacities at hubs, better preparation from the airlines and larger capacity aircraft in use today may help to mitigate the potential pitfalls of rebanking flights.
[Photo: American Airlines]