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Which Airlines Are Eyeing New Service From Washington-DCA

10 slot exemptions are set to be awarded in pairs to five airline applicants.

A Delta aircraft takes off from Washington-DCA (Photo: Shutterstock)

Following the FAA Reauthorization Act’s passing earlier this year, airlines are competing for five pairs of additional slots to operate flights at the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) near Washington, D.C.

President Biden signed the bipartisan FAA Reauthorization Act into law on May 16. The 1,083-page bill reauthorizes the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) through fiscal year 2028, including activities and programs related to airport planning and development, facilities, equipment, and operations.

Section 502 of the bill adds 10 total one-way airport slot exemptions at DCA. These 10 extra flights –which grant airlines the ability to exceed the airport’s 1,250-mile perimeter rule – will be divided in pairs to five applying airlines that meet the criteria outlined in the bill.

Four of the slot pairs will be available to non-limited incumbent air carriers at DCA as of May 16. The remaining slot will be available to one airline carrier qualifying for status as a limited incumbent carrier at DCA.

The Secretary of Transportation is to consider the following criteria when awarding the slot exemptions to applicants:

  • The exemptions must enhance options for nonstop travel to “beyond-perimeter airports” that do not have nonstop service from DCA as of the signing of the bill. 
  • Or they must have a positive impact on the overall level of competition in the markets.

Airlines Applying

A post on X/Twitter by aviation reporter Ishrion Aviation names eight airlines that have applied for the DCA slot exemptions so far. Of these airlines, American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, and United are non-limited incumbent carriers and will compete for one of four available slot pairs.

American has applied to serve a route for daily nonstop service between DCA and San Antonio International Airport (SAT). The flight is scheduled to be operated by an Airbus A321.

“American is proud to submit an application to provide the only nonstop service between San Antonio and Washington, D.C.,” said Brian Znotins, American’s Senior Vice President of Network and Schedule Planning, in a news release published by the company. “This new service will expand American’s industry-leading domestic network connecting customers to the places they want to visit most.”

Delta applied to operate a new flight between DCA and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA).

“Seattle is a crucial hub for Delta,” said Delta President Glen Hauenstein in an article published on Delta News Hub. “With today’s [June 6] Taipei launch, we are further solidifying Seattle’s role as our leading Pacific gateway. And by adding a direct flight to our nation’s capital in Washington, D.C., Seattle customers will have the additional competition and choice they deserve.”

According to Ishrion Aviation’s X/Twitter post, Delta is proposing a second daily flight to Salt Lake City (SLC) as a backup.

JetBlue announced its application to operate a second daily flight between DCA and Luis Munoz Marin International Airport (SJU) in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

“JetBlue looks forward to submitting our application to enhance the connection between Reagan National and our focus city, San Juan, with convenient double-daily low fare roundtrip flights between the two capitals,” said Robert Land, JetBlue’s head of government affairs and associate general counsel, in a news release published by the company. “Puerto Rico, known as ‘La Isla del Encanto,’ relies on air service to maintain and enhance its connection with the mainland United States, and to Washington, D.C. in particular.”

JetBlue also proposed a new route to Los Angeles (LAX) as an alternative route option for the DCA slot.

In a news release, Southwest said it is planning a new route between DCA and the Harry Reid International Airport (LAS) in Las Vegas.

“Southwest has a long history of connecting people across the nation with important moments in their lives through competitive airfares, friendly and flexible policies, and the unmatched Hospitality of our People,” said Bob Jordan, President & Chief Executive Officer at Southwest Airlines, in the news release. “We look forward to demonstrating to the DOT that Southwest’s proposal will maximize benefits to the traveling public.”

Earlier this week, United announced its application to provide a second daily route between DCA and San Francisco. 

“With our hub in San Francisco, United is well positioned to serve the strong customer demand for air travel between Washington National and the Bay Area,” said Patrick Quayle, Senior Vice President of Global Network Planning and Alliances at United Airlines, in the news release. “If awarded by the DOT, this new service will give customers a unique morning departure from Washington National and a unique afternoon departure from San Francisco, as well as more connectivity for both domestic and international travelers via SFO.”

United has included a second daily flight to Los Angeles (LAX) as an alternative route in their application.

Limited incumbent carriers Alaska, Frontier, and Spirit, will compete for the last slot, though Ishrion Aviation notes that Frontier and Spirit weren’t included in the Department of Transportation’s list of eligible airlines.

As of July 9, Alaska announced it has formally submitted an application with the U.S. Department of Transportation to operate a new round-trip flight between San Diego International Airport (SAN) and DCA.

Spirit has also applied, stating its intention to operate routes between San Jose Mineta International Airport (SJC) in San Jose, Calif. and DCA. The ultra-low-cost carrier ended service to DCA in 2012.

“Silicon Valley and Washington, D.C., share significant ties in the technology industry,” said Matt Klein, Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer at Spirit Airlines, in a news release published by the company. “New nonstop flights between the airports that sit at the heart of these two communities would make travel easier and foster opportunity for better collaboration between these influential markets. Our San José Guests have truly embraced Spirit during our first year of service at SJC, and we appreciate the support from the SJC team and our community partners in pursuing this new service.”

Frontier has yet to make a public announcement regarding its application, though its DOT application can be read here. Frontier seeks to operate a route between Luis Munoz Marin International Airport (SJU) in San Juan, Puerto Rico and DCA. The airline currently flies to Denver from the airport.

Breeze Calls Foul

Breeze Airways, an airline not already flying routes at DCA, is calling the reauthorization legislation unfair and anti-competitive because it excludes non-incumbent airlines.

In a media statement emailed by Breeze, the three-year-old airline states that they would have welcomed the opportunity to apply for the new DCA slots by “exploring potential service to service to several underserved destinations,” including Reno, Boise, Sacramento, and Albuquerque.

“By filing these public comments today, we are highlighting the unfair and anti-competitive nature of the FAA’s 2024 reauthorization legislation that excludes Breeze from applying for the new DCA slots,” the company’s media statement says.

AirlineGeeks.com Staff


  • Caleb Revill

    Caleb Revill is a journalist, writer and lifelong learner working as a Junior Writer for Firecrown. When he isn't tackling breaking news, Caleb is on the lookout for fascinating feature stories. Every person has a story to tell, and Caleb wants to help share them! He can be contacted by email anytime at [email protected].

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