We've already seen plenty of domestic flight cuts, but international has been relatively untouched, despite Continental's announcement yesterday. Last week seven airlines filed for the right to suspend international flights without penalty for a two year period, and if that's approved, I would imagine we'll see some big changes in the international world.
Let me explain this a little better. There are still many international routes that are restricted. A well-known example of this involves flights between the US and China. There are only a handful of frequencies and the DOT allocates them to a specific airline to operate a specific route. Even places like Mexico have restrictions that allow only a certain number of US carriers to fly each route between the US and Mexico.
If an airline stops flying a route for a certain amount of time, then its authority goes dormant and another airline is allowed to apply for the right to use that authority. Last week, Alaska, American, Continental, Delta, Northwest, United, and US Airways all asked for a waiver to this rule that would cover all US airlines. In other words, they want everyone to be able to temporarily suspend flights for a couple years and not lose their long term authority. As they put it in the filing,
In these perilous times, airlines should not be required to operate flights that are uneconomic during periods of low demand to preserve their long-term investments in operating rights in limited-entry markets. . . .To show just how urgent this is, they requested the answer period be shortened to a mere six calendar days with a decisions by June 30 at the very latest. The DOT obliged and replies are due today, Friday the 13th. So far, JetBlue has filed in support of the filing as has SkyWest. Frontier has decided not to oppose it as long as they get the same treatment (which is proposed). FedEx, UPS, and Polar also feel the same way.
But then there's Spirit. Spirit isn't happy and strongly opposes it. Why? Well, they've been trying to get some frequencies down to Caribbean and South American countries and they've been unsuccessful so far. They are one of the few airlines looking to expand right now.
Despite Spirit's opposition, I see no reason why this won't be approved, and when it is, I would expect a flurry of announcements to follow. The interesting thing is that during the two year period, anyone will be able to temporarily use those slots. So some enterprising carrier may be able to dip their toes in the waters, but it would only be temporary.