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How Passenger Airlines Schedule Flights

There are many varieties of passenger airlines. However, many use different ways to schedule flights. Here, we will talk about hubs, hub flying vs. point to point flying, hub banks, and more!!!

The traditional airline uses a hub and spoke network when scheduling flights. Hubs are centers where airlines route their routes through and focus most of their flying and flight operations. Spokes are destinations that the airline serves that is not a hub. Hubs are usually used as points where passengers transfer to different destinations. For most European and Asian airlines, this is one or two large hubs where passengers can connect to flights. For example, Lufthansa has hubs in Frankfurt and Munich, Germany where a passenger from North America can connect to other destinations in Europe like Oslo, Norway or vice versa. Another example is Thai Airways, with its only hub in Bangkok, where passengers from Europe can connect to other destinations in Asia like Phuket.

Meanwhile, for the United States, there are multiple hubs in different locations to allow each region of the U.S. to be connected convienently within reach of a hub. For example, there is always at least one hub on the East Coast and West Coast to efficiently serve each coast. For United Airlines, this is New York/Newark-EWR and Washington-Dulles on the East Coast, and San Francisco and Los Angeles on the West Coast. Hubs on the East Coast usually serve as European gateways while hubs on the West Coast serve as gateways to the Pacific(Asia and Oceania). Passengers can use these hubs to connect efficiently to places on each coast. The goal for these airlines is to serve most, if not all, of the mainland U.S. effectively.

When airlines use hubs, they schedule them in banks. Banks are a certain time period where flights land and depart. For example, United Airlines' hub in Washington D.C. has a time where a majority of flights arrive at 4 P.M. and depart at 5:30 P.M. This is called a bank because flights land and depart at certain times. Flights are scheduled like this to allow people to connect easily from flights to flight with little connection time and enough time to allow for flights to be refueled, cleaned, and catered. A negative part of banks is that when there is a large cluster of flights departing, there is a high likelihood of delays especially during bad weather. Additionally, aircraft utilization could be negatively impacted when aircraft are forced to sit at a spoke for hours when they arrive.

The main point of a hub and "spoke" network is to facilitate fewer routes so that fewer aircraft are used which cuts costs. An airline can funnel traffic through one of their hubs where a passenger can connect to more places. For example, rather than United Airlines flying to every major U.S. city from Raleigh, United Airlines flies to its hubs in Chicago, Denver, Houston, San Francisco, and Washington-Dulles where passengers can connect to more destinations.

Very small hubs with very few "spokes" are known as focus cities because they are not as large as the hub, but not classified as the regular spoke. Some carriers classify their bases that function like hubs as focus cities like Jetblue with Boston and New York-JFK. Meanwhile, airports that have only one hub carrier with little to no competition are known as fortress hubs. Due to little competitions, airports usually have higher fares than other airports that are not fortress hubs.

Some airlines use what is called a scissor hub. This is where multiple flights land at a same time and switch passengers onto other destinations. For example, Qantas is one of the few airlines still operating this via LAX. Flights from Brisbane, Melbourne, and Sydney arrive in the early morning and the aircraft which operates the Brisbane flight continues onto New York City.

The other variant in how passenger airlines operate is point to point flying. Point-point flying is the opposite of hub and spoke flying, where an airline relies more on nonstop flying, rather than connections. This strategy is implemented usually by low-cost carriers like Ryanair, Easyjet, and Southwest. The main advantage of point to point flying is to reduce the flying time between destinations.

Usually, most low-cost carriers implement a combination of the point to point and the hub and spoke systems. For example, Southwest implements a hub and spoke by having bases where they base most of their flights. However, they mainly fly more point-point where their bases are not banked and they fly to a lot of cities.

At the end, the main goal of scheduling flights efficiently is to use the fleet and resources efficiently. Based on their strategy, airlines will make decisions to suit their strategy and utilize their fleet and

To summarize:

Airlines use two main ways of scheduling flights, hub and spoke, and point to point flying.

Hub and spoke network is where airlines focus a certain amount of their flying and operations and where passengers can connect to a multitude of destinations.

Other Lessons in this Section:

📝 How Passenger Airlines Schedule Flights
📝 How Airlines Schedule New Routes
📝 How Cargo Companies Schedule Flights
✅ Flight Scheduling Quiz