News that American Airlines will suspend service from Burbank/Bob Hope Airport next month compounds a problem for an airport that continues to lose passengers even as it invests in a pricey infrastructure upgrade that will enhance the parking facilities and connect the airport to a nearby Metrolink (Southern California’s commuter train service) station by pedestrian footbridge. But the news also presents an opening for United Airlines if they are willing to make a strategic investment in this strategic airport.
In the days of Lockheed-Martin dominating Burbank and even as recently as 2008, United had a much stronger presence at the airport. Mainline 737s and A320s operated multiple daily flights to San Francisco and Denver, with frequent shuttle service to Silicon Valley during the dot-com boom. In the 1980s, United even operated wide-body 767 service to Chicago.
But the bean-counters at United determined that the airport, about 30 miles from its LAX hub, was just not profitable and gradually shifted service from larger mainline aircraft to 50-70 seat planes operated by United’s regional subsidiary SkyWest. The airline currently only serves San Francisco and Denver using 50-seat Canada Air Regional Jets.
Burbank is my favorite airport in Southern California not only because it is so close to my house, but because it is so manageable: parking is easy, lines are never long, and the airport retains a laid-back feel that is so lacking at Los Angeles International. Even the TSA is on better behavior (on most days).
All this to say that United should take a closer look at Burbank now. While Burbank may have lost Lockheed, it still has Walt Disney, Warner Brother, NBC, and ABC. More importantly, it still has millions of residents in a 20-mile radius who are sick of long lines and crowds and who are willing to pay a little bit more (like me) for the convenience of flying out of an airport where you can arrive 40 minutes before departure and still have time to spare.
Competing with 2-3 MD-80 flights a day to Dallas and a Delta 757 to Atlanta was tough and it was understandable that United scaled back its operations in the face of a glut of capacity. But Delta is gone (now only serving Salt Lake City on SkyWest regional jets) and American soon will be. Surely there must be an opportunity to capitalize on this precipitous decline in traffic. Here’s my plan:
- Daily service to New York JFK on United’s “Premium Service” (p.s.) 757s
JetBlue has done well with their Burbank-New York JFK flights, but does not offer first or business class, causing many business and leisure travelers to fly out of Los Angeles instead. With all the entertainment companies located nearby (and the Westside just as close to Burbank as it is to LAX when you factor in traffic), I am confident UA could sell enough premium seats on daily or five-times weekly service to New York to make the route worthwhile. With American gone, UA will have an extra gate and could even work in a small lounge if they wanted to.
- Daily service to Houston on a CRJ-700 or ERJ-170 (or even a 737)
Houston now serves as vital United hub and link to the world. With American now departing, there is a void to Texas and funneling travelers to United’s “Southern Command” is much easier than flying to Chicago or Denver, where UA has recently scaled back operations.
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With two flights a day to Houston, one to New York, and the return of mainline service at least once a day to Denver and San Francisco, United could quickly become a powerhouse at Burbank again and woo traffic from LAX in a way that airports like Ontario and Palmdale (both just too far away) cannot do.
Burbank is too valuable of a property and business proposition to just let this golden opportunity slide by…