Airlines’ $100 Million Routes Are (Almost) All Between Hubs

by Sam Roecker
For all the talk about small efficient aircraft and increased point-to-point service, airlines are still making the most money on the core of their hub-and-spoke models.
Routes between big U.S. hub airports constituted $100 million-plus revenue figures for American, Delta, and United. Aviation firm OAG took a look at where airlines make their most money, and found that the busiest routes largely come out of the nation’s hub airport ,per Forbes.
The busiest hubs in the United States, by total passenger traffic:
  1. Atlanta (ATL)
  2. Los Angeles (LAX)
  3. Chicago O’Hare (ORD)
  4. Dallas/Ft Worth (DFW)
  5. Denver (DEN)
  6. New York Kennedy (JFK)
  7. San Francisco (SFO)
  8. Las Vegas (LAS)
  9. Seattle (SEA)
  10. Charlotte (CLT)

Improvements in aircraft technology have led some analysts to speculate that carriers are poised to move away from hub-and-spoke routing. Smaller, efficient jets can fly far enough to facilitate direct service between medium or even small airports.

For now, the hub-and-spoke model remains preeminent as the most efficient system to move passengers and generate revenue. Airlines raked in cash last year on routes like Atlanta to New York LaGuardia, Chicago to Dallas, and Detroit to Los Angeles.

New York, New York Nets Top Dollar

The most lucrative routes in the entire study have endpoints in New York City. United took in $457 million last year on flights between its Newark Liberty (EWR) hub and San Francisco International (SFO). The carrier made $334 million flying between Los Angeles and the Tri-State Area.

New York Kennedy – the nation’s sixth busiest gem – was a cash cow for Delta. Top routes include Los Angeles International (LAX) at $330 million (roughly the same as competitors American and United. The next five include:

  • San Francisco (SFO) – $221 million
  • London Heathrow (LHR) – $145 million
  • Las Vegas (LAX) – $118 million
  • Seattle (SEA) – $96 million
  • Salt Lake City (SLC) – $86 million

All roads lead to Atlanta

The highest grossing Atlanta route was to New York LaGuardia, dominated by Delta. The route generated $192 million in revenue in 2017. Delta flies approximately 16 daily flights on the route, providing service as frequent as some commuter shuttles.

Other highly-lucrative routes from Delta’s Atlanta mega-hub include:

  • Los Angeles (LAX) – $162 million
  • San Francisco (SFO) – $109 million
  • Washington National (DCA) – $104 million
  • Las Vegas McCarran (LAS) – $93 million
  • London Heathrow (LHR) – $91 million

Notably, Newark Liberty, which is a fortress for United, was the eighth-highest grossing route for Delta’s Atlanta hub, bringing in over $80 million in revenue. United has stepped up its game on Newark to Atlanta, offering mainline-only flight seven times daily.

United’s Newark to Atlanta schedule

Despite the competition, Los Angeles generates high revenue

Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) is America’s fourth busiest airport and largest hub for American – with over 800 daily departures. America’s $100 million-plus routes just from its DFW mega-hub include:

  • New York LaGuardia (LGA) – $151 million
  • Los Angeles (LAX) – $139 million
  • Chicago O’Hare (ORD) – $136 million
  • London Heathrow (LHR) – $119 million
  • Philadelphia (PHL) – $105 million

These routes don’t include American’s top-performing route – LAX to JFK – which produced a whopping $330 million in revenue for all of 2017. It turns out, American’s LAX hub is quite profitable despite the fierce competition. From Los Angeles (LAX), $100 million-plus routes include:

  • Miami (MIA) – $160 million
  • Philadelphia (PHL) – $141 million
  • Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) – $140 million
  • Chicago O’Hare (ORD) – $130 million

Delta and United are sharing the LAX pie

For Delta, Los Angeles also produced top-revenue routes, including:
  • Atlanta (ATL) – $162 million
  • Detroit (DTW) – $110 million
  • Honolulu (HNL) – $76 million
  • Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) – $72 million
For United, Los Angeles ‘stars’ include:
  • Newark (EWR)- $334 million
  • Washington-Dulles (IAD) – $147 million
  • Chicago O’Hare (ORD) – $134 million
  • Houston Intercontinental (IAH) – $98 million
  • London Heathrow (LHR) – $76 million
  • Shanghai (PVG) – $71 million

O’Hare remains strong for hometown United – and American

Chicago O’Hare, the nation’s third busiest airport, services several $100 million routes for hometown carrier United, including:

  • San Francisco (SFO)- $189 million
  • Newark (EWR) – $140 million
  • Los Angeles (LAX) – $134 million
  • Houston Intercontinental (IAH) – $86 million
  • Denver (DEN) – $82 million

For American, eight other hubs were in the top revenue drivers out of O’Hare:

  • New York LaGuardia (LGA) – $151 million
  • Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) – $136 million
  • Los Angeles (LAX) – $130 million
  • Philadelphia (PHL) – $113 million
  • London Heathrow (LHR) – $110 million
  • Phoenix (PHX) – $105 million
  • Miami (MIA) – $85 million
  • Charlotte (CLT) – $71 million
Major, major hat-tip to Forbes and OAG for this incredible data

From San Francisco – United’s ever-growing West Coast hub – the carrier generated $457 million in revenue to Newark (EWR). Other top performers include:

  • London Heathrow (LHR) – $215 million
  • Washington Dulles (IAD) – $194 million
  • Chicago (ORD) – $118 million
  • Boston (BOS) – $182 million
  • Shanghai (PVG) – $157 million

United is clearly winning at the transcon game.

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