How Do Airlines Decide Which Routes To Fly?

The decision about where an airline is going to fly to is based on a number of different factors that they take into consideration before increasing or decreasing the destinations that they fly to.

We always thought that it would be a complicated decision-making process that was, and is based solely on FAA (Federal Aviation Authority) guidelines and regulations, but we were wrong. 

The decisions have very little to do with the FAA, and everything to do with supply and demand, the type of aircraft that the airlines use and the capability of the location of their hub, or base of operation. 

Airline Size

A lot of airline route decisions are made solely by the size of the company and the fleet of aircraft that they have at the disposal.

The number of routes an airline is able to regularly fly depends entirely on the number of aircraft that they have, the number of crew that they employ to fly them, and the amount of maintenance crew that is also employed by the airline to regularly service and maintain their air fleet.  

Adding a route to their regular schedule can often mean adding an additional airplane to their fleet, and that sort of decision is usually dictated by the finances of the airline and how well it is doing economically at any given time. 

Whether the airline flies internationally or maintains a domestic schedule is also dictated by the type of aircraft that they fly and whether or not said aircraft and their crew has the range and capability of flying the sort of distances and for the amount of time that an international flight schedule demands. 

The Hub

Some hubs are bigger than others and some have the capability and capacity to deal with international flights and some don’t.  

If an airline is based in an international hub it increases the chances that it will be able to incorporate an international flight into its schedule and if it’s based in a hub that can’t accommodate international travel, it will significantly reduce its chances of expanding to the international market and will almost certainly limit them solely to domestic routes.

Competition Is Everything 

The airline industry is an incredibly cutthroat business and the competition between airlines is incredibly fierce.  The decision about which routes are and aren’t a viable proposition can be shaped by an airline’s desire to force one or more of their competitors out of the market and absorb their business in the process. 

While the competition for international business isn’t quite as ruthless as the domestic one is, the desire to dominate one or both has resulted in the demise of airlines that were once thought to be big to fail as well as small mom and pop carriers. 

The Popularity Of A Destination

Airlines are dependent on their passengers and where the passengers want to go, dictates where the airline will and won’t fly to.

The more popular a destination is, the more likely it is that an airline will fly there. Market forces are just as responsible for determining the schedule of an airline as their capacity and capability are. 

As a business, airlines continually monitor routes in order to see where their potential passengers are electing to travel to, whether for business or pleasure. And the more people that fly to a certain destination, the more likely it is that an airline will add that route to their schedule.

While they constantly monitor the number of flights that are flying into certain destinations, airlines also note the number of passengers on each of these flights.

If all of the aircraft flying into that destination are at capacity or close to it,  it increases the economic viability of that destination as it means that it is a consistently popular destination.

This makes it increasingly likely that an airline will add it to their schedule, but if the opposite is true and the aircraft flying to what appears to be a popular destination are frequently at half or less capacity, it means that the route isn’t financially viable, which makes it’s far less likely that an airline will add it to their schedule. 

The Price Point Is Everything

At the end of the day, when all is said and done and their aircraft have taxied to a halt, every airline is a business. They’re aware of the ticket prices that their competitors charge and are just as aware of what passengers are willing to pay in order to fly to wherever they want to go.

Knowing that, they’ll then study the economic vitality of a popular route and if they can undercut the ticket prices of a competitor and still make a profit by flying to that destination and adding it to their schedule, it will exponentially increase the likelihood that they will start directing their aircraft toward that particular hub as soon as they can.  

Every route and flight path is solely determined by market forces and profitability.