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Hub quality & travel decision

Tue Nov 28, 2017 3:00 pm

Hello to all, this is my first OP. Before I explain this subtle topic, let me just say I have been reading a-net daily or nearly for the past 6 years, so I know some of you way better than you do me :mrgreen: I joined 3 weeks ago when I finally deemed I had something to add, principally in Game Theory applied to commercial aviation ( I even toyed about going by GTG or GameTheoryGuy ). I have few subjects I am interested in but not discussed or covered well enough, so there will be few OPs on my part but I am sure to learn from your inputs.

The importance of hubs has been amply discussed ad nauseam from all economic POVs, so this is not about hub-spokes or point-to-point models, not about frequencies or minimizing lay-overs. It is about what hubs quality-conscious Pax prefer to transit through and what both airlines & airport authorities do or invest in to lure in more traffic. Therefore, it is not only about travel preferences, it is also about economics, finance & services : seamless & fast connectivity, consumer services, duty frees, attractive lay-over allowances & visa-waiwers all have economic relevance & impact to both hubs and their home airline. While most Pax will go through the hub of the cheapest ticket they buy, aviation connoisseurs & premium passengers often choose their flight, and sometimes their FF programme, based on Hub qualities. SQ & the ME3 owe their success much to these positive synergies, SIN because it does very well despite not being geographically well located as BKK or HKG, the ME3 because extremely well located but started from scratch in the middle of nowhere.

To but this into perspective, I am an economist but see that my decisions & plannings, like many FF I know, do not fit the standard offer/demand model held as gospel here & in commercial Aviation in general. Within the LH group, I choose ZRH over FRA for its convenient facilities & systematically so when flights take me in or out of the Schengen area, FRA is pax-unfriendly & unless you literally run through the underground corridors between LH terminals, queues at custom & passport checks will make you miss your LH short-time connecting flights - I've seen that happen to hundreds of passengers. Within Europe, CDG has my preference for its high connectivity everywhere, superior & cheaper than LHR. But if I have a day or more to spare, typically a (long) week-end, I will pick up another airline to a nice city with the needed connectivity, so FFpoints really come second : AMS, FCO, LIS, MAD, CPH, RIX, SVO, IST, DXB, BKK, SIN & HKG are favourites. In North America, I like YYZ, ORD, EWR & IAD each for different reasons, ( I even chose DFW once just to have a new ride on the airside train : silly but enough for AA to get my money ), but Canada aside, the whole int'l transit process is a hassle & I avoid US airports like pest as transit points elsewhere. To South America, as I also hate GRU, depending on final destination, MEX, BOG & LIM have a nice local flavour to get me out of my way if need be.

While many of these airports are run independently of their home airline, some work hand in hand to make the whole transit & lay-over experience worth the detour, with significant opportunity costs to pax ( in terms of time & FF points ), but above all to airlines & their FF programmes, admitedly marginal but stil significant in terms of money to tap. If my case is any indication, a whopping 2/3 of my flights are not with my preferred alliance. These synergetic & seamless hubs include : CDG, RIX, IST, AUH, DOH, DXB, BKK & SIN, they all naturally developped restaurants & shops that make a sizable part of their profits & thus of airlines too by the additional Pax they lure in. So as this behaviour violates the standard consumer model, my questions are manyfold :

1. Do you systematically prefer your FF programme & minimum time travel over any other consideration ?
2. If not, what hubs do you fly into instead of the most direct and/or cheaper route ?
3. In your opinion, what hubs have made an excellent job in luring more Pax than standard O/D & simple connecting flows would allow ?
4. SQ & ME3 aside, what other airlines have thrived on other criteria than connectivity, price & on-board service ?
5. Related to question above, what airlines have greater room for expansion by developping these criteria further ?
6. In the end, what are the hubs best positionned to attract quality-minded passengers away from cheap fares, FF points, max connectivity & max frequecies considerations ?
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Re: Hub quality & travel decision

Tue Nov 28, 2017 4:18 pm

I live in the Northeast US (ALB) and travel frequently for business. For domestic US travel, I would say my travel choices are nearly always based on airline/alliance loyalty and time. I am a OW elite and typically chose AA in the US for that reason; my second criteria would be time, in the following order: preferred departure/arrival time, total travel time, layover time. Given the choices I have for transit through AA hubs from ALB (those being PHL, CLT, DCA and ORD), it doesn't make much difference to me which hub I am traveling though; with that said, I do try to avoid ORD in the winter and perhaps CLT during the height of summer thunderstorm season. If all other criteria was set aside and I had to chose any hub to transit through in the US, I would go with DTW due its simplicity, open space, and natural light.

For travel to Europe, I typically prefer departing out of JFK due to the number of options, ability to avoid a layover, and the typically lower cost of travel out of NYC. However, arriving back into the US and going through customs/immigration at JFK is a major detractor to this convenience. I don't think the terminal matters...CBP agents tend to be rude and confusing. I've experienced this in both Terminals 4 and 7. If I was to travel internationally and needed to process through US CBP, for O&D or transit through a hub, I have found much more pleasant experiences at PHL, CLT and IAH, and may be inclined to use those airports/hubs given the right conditions.
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Re: Hub quality & travel decision

Tue Nov 28, 2017 5:33 pm

Thanks vjzalb for your detailed answer.
Elite status does come in with a number perks & airline business cards only bootstrap that. So as long as commercial flights are a transport destined to another activity, business or other, the general model holds. I will contend however that global alliances hinder some healthy competition but also foster more economic activity in ways that more than compensate the caveat.

Now, I value time maximization & opportunity costs.
Having an agreeable life & visiting new places are part of maximizing my utility function, with time & opportunity costs as constraints, the terms in bold are standard concepts in rational behaviour modelling in Economics.
What does surprise me is that I do not see that applied to commercial aviation. Any trained economist please step in to discuss this :white:
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Re: Hub quality & travel decision

Thu Nov 30, 2017 5:21 am

As mentioned by VJZALB, weather can absolutely be a factor. I have purposefully selected wintertime PHX connections over ORD connections.

Also, all factors being somewhat equal, I have a preference for connecting close to home when possible as a result of several unpleasant "stranded" hub experiences from mass flight cancellations. For example, as a PDX resident when connecting at SEA, I have far more options to get home (high flight frequencies, short car/bus/train journey, nearby family) if mass cancellations occur than at distant hubs.
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Re: Hub quality & travel decision

Thu Nov 30, 2017 4:52 pm

I wish I flew enough to be able to answer those questions :)
"When I find out I was wrong, I change my mind. What do you do?" -attributed to John Maynard Keynes
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Re: Hub quality & travel decision

Fri Dec 01, 2017 2:33 am

Weather is pretty my only consideration when selecting who to fly on. I try to avoid SFO due to fog, and I try to avoid IAD and ORD during to winter. Of course, these are all UA hubs, so I generally avoid UA as well (and for other reasons).
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Re: Hub quality & travel decision

Sat Dec 02, 2017 11:05 am

I used to fly quite frequently between Asia and non-OSL Norway meaning I only had CPH or AMS as options if I wanted a one-stop which I always try to get, so schedule, total travel time, and then price are my considerations. I've never been in a position to choose hubs. FF was never a consideration for me. When I was living in Shanghai, for short haul I would try to chose SHA over PVG as it took about 90 minutes less to get to SHA from where I was living.

Other than that, personally I also avoid certain airlines (and by extension, hubs) on principle. I don't want to fly Aeroflot , not because they're bad or unsafe, I just don't want to give them my money. I also try to avoid all Chinese airlines, and connecting in China unless it's an intra-China flight.
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Re: Hub quality & travel decision

Sun Dec 03, 2017 11:29 pm

My home airport has a lot of options. I am elite on DL but obviously also have to fly UA if I don't want to connect. So I tend to look at DL first, and then second UA, but I go with whoever has the best schedule so if business was in Dallas would definitely consider AA given the number of flights. I try to avoid ORD or NYC airports whenever possible as they are always problematic for me.I think DL is trying to get to where the ME3 and Singapore are, as is every airline. In the US DL is probably closest and outside of LAX and LGA, their hubs are probably the best facilities as well. In Asia I think the Taiwanese and Korean carriers are getting close to Singapore and the connecting opportunities are better from the US. So far I don't see the premium in price on these carriers probably due to overcapacity in the Asia market particularly with the rise of the Chinese carriers.

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