United Goes Back Into Mini-Expansion Mode Domestically

Last Updated Sep 24, 2009 10:02 AM EDT

For years, United has been all about cutting service domestically. In fact, it's probably been almost 10 years now of continuous cutting. But lately, the airline has started opening (or re-opening) some new cities and started a mini-expansion mode.

Let me emphasize that this is a very "mini" expansion mode. In other words, this is all happening in small cities with regional jets. This month alone, United launched Chicago to El Paso, Huntsville, Little Rock, and London (Ontario, Canada). Now in December, the airline is starting flights from LA to El Paso and from Denver to both Midland/Odessa and Louisville. Chicago will get new flights to Duluth (Minnesota) and Asheville (North Carolina). Duluth, Asheville, and Midland/Odessa are all new cities for the airline. All of these December adds will be on 50 seat CRJs. Ouch. That Denver to Louisville flights is an awful long way to go in that sardine can.

It's interesting to see United expanding again, even if it is only with CRJs, but I do find myself wondering about some of these routes. El Paso to LAX? Yikes. That's Southwest territory, so the only reason to add this is if they are somehow feeding their flights to Sydney and Tokyo. If they've signed up a new corporate account with a ton of business between those cities, then I'll buy it. Otherwise, this'll be ugly.

In fact, I find myself wondering if there are corporate reasons behind many of these new routes. It's hard to make money with a 50 seat jet unless you've got strong business demand. Or, in the case of Asheville, rich people who travel for fun will do the trick. I'm interested in seeing how many of these routes are still around next year.