Turbulence at small airlines
Nearly half of all airline flights in the U.S. are flown by so-called regional carriers using planes that typically seat 50 to 100 passengers. Your ticket and the logo on the plane might say American, Delta or United, but there’s a good chance the pilots and flight attendants work for a regional airline like SkyWest or Mesa.
Regional airlines are now shrinking as a share of the industry’s passenger-carrying capacity. Figures from their trade group, the Regional Airline Association, show that traffic on the big airlines is rising but travel on regional carriers is flat to down slightly.
The regionals face tough cost pressures, a pilot shortage, and the desire by pilots at big airlines to do more of the flying. Daily departures by regional airlines have shrunk 24 percent in the past decade.
The effect has been felt most in smaller cities, which have been losing air service. Aviation consultant Mike Boyd says many travelers in places like Topeka, Kansas, prefer to drive farther to bigger airports with more fights. So Topeka, which offered two daily United flights in 2014, “simply could not compete.”
With fewer flights, fares to smaller cities are now relatively high. That has United executives thinking about reversing course and expanding service to smaller airports.