August 24, 2008
New York Loses Direct Flights To 25 Cities

Even New York isn't big enough to maintain all its direct destinations.

Starting next month, nonstop flights between New York and 25 domestic and international cities will disappear, and service to another 55 cities will be sharply curtailed, according to, an airline-ticket research site that analyzed fall flight schedules at the request of Crain's.

Bangkok Thailand is among the cities losing direct service to the Big Apple. Ditto Bologna, Naples, and Palermo Italy. You'll probably have to go via Rome. Tucson Arizona will lose direct service too. A lot more people will be taking connecting flights and spending more time in intermediate airports.

A couple of months ago I came across a report that if (or, rather, when) oil prices go high enough direct flights across the United States and over similar distances on other continents will become rare. Instead people will travel in aircraft that go in hops. The problem with direct flights is that the fuel for the last part of the journey has to get carried the entire distance. Carrying fuel uses fuel to push that fuel along. So airplanes if airplanes carry less fuel and stop more often they become more fuel efficient. The elimination of direct flights from New York is probably partly a reflection of this fact.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2008 August 24 08:25 PM  Energy Transportation

JSR said at August 27, 2008 4:45 AM:

taking off and landing uses *far* more fuel than cruising at altitude..

Maestro said at August 27, 2008 5:44 AM:

Are any of these adjustments seasonal? IE NYC to Bologna was never a year round route.

dcc said at August 27, 2008 5:53 AM:

As JSR said, that report you read makes no sense. Cruising at altitude is the most efficient part of flight. Climbing, holding and flying terminal arrival procedures and approaches at low altitudes are high fuel consumption operations, so it makes no sense to increase the time spent doing that.

alan said at August 27, 2008 7:39 AM:

Climbing to altitude with a full fuel load takes longer, and burns more fuel, than climbing to altitude while less fully loaded. When fully loaded, most aircraft have to "step-climb" to altitude, because they can't go directly to the most efficient cruise altitude--they're too heavy.

A well-managed, well-planned descent, given cooperation from controllers, can burn the minimum fuel because it can be conducted with the throttles at flight idle for most of the time. You're trading the energy of your altitude for the energy in the fuel. So "landing" doesn't necessarily use "far more fuel". And having fewer flights in the terminal area can lessen the low-altitude vectoring.

It costs fuel to carry fuel. So, for some flights, there really can be a savings on a seat-mile basis.

Dan said at August 27, 2008 8:03 AM:

The fuel for direct-versus-hops argument doesn't make sense to me.

However, the thought that 100 people going to NYC from Tucson, and 50 people from Denver, and 50 from Salt Lake City take three small (50-100 person, regional jet-sized) planes to Chicago, then all 200 get onto a medium sized plane (200 person capacity) to NYC, does make sense. Each leg of the journey neatly fills the aircraft to near-capacity, maximizing the revenue earned per gallon of fuel burned.

But this is bumping up against the fact that each runway can only carry approximately one take-off or landing per minute. When that minute is taken up by an RJ with 50 people versus 200, we start to see signifcant delays from minor perturbations.

Dave Lincoln said at August 27, 2008 8:14 AM:

Quite correct, JSR and Dcc. The point that it burns fuel to carry fuel is obvious, but what does that have to do with direct flights vs. hub operations? Nada! The point of hub operations is to make more cities accessible on the same airline, especially via 3 legs. If Salt Lake City serves cities the size of Durango, CO with a regional jet or turboprop and then Atlanta serves, say, Pensacola, FL with the same, then a passenger can book a flight from Durango, CO to Pensacola, PL all on this airline (Say Delta, hehe). The possibilities are almost endless then - there could be tens of thousands of possible destination-destination trips available, albeit, many will take 3 legs, and many 2 legs.

It is only not worth it to do the direct NY-Tucson, per the article, if you are not filling up the flights well with paying passengers, or, if, as most "major airlines" do, you have a computer program making the fares, and you have lots of people on board (not last minute, mind you) that are paying less than their share of the fuel even, for the flight. This indeed happens, because most airlines' marketing people are stupid enough to trust a computer program to make up fares, as they do not want to do real work. Southwest Airlines is a major exception - they have management with brains and guts.

Dave Lincoln said at August 27, 2008 8:27 AM:

Not true, Alan, about the step climb, unless you are talking about the Heavies going across the ocean. Try riding on a 757-200. That thing can get up to 38,000 ft without taking a deep breath. It is one hell of an airplane. But, any narrow body going up to a reasonable altitude, or even a heavy on a domestic route, does not need to step climb (mind you, some of the regional jets do tend to dog out when full in the summer time, but they can still keep some climb going into the low 30,000's).

Yes, landing and T/O do require some extra fuel, Alan. Re landings, look, the plane will not decend at idle all the way to the runway (altough I don't think you were implying this) That should scare the crap out of you if you believe it. There is still a traffic pattern, the plane has to be configured, and BTW, that best decent will only be close to happening when going into a small airport, not to the hub.

2 more things:

1) meant Pensacola, Florida (dont' know what state "PL" is ;-)
2) What Dan said about runways.

Pete said at August 27, 2008 9:03 AM:

Direct flights are not the same as nonstop flights, and "direct destinations" does not describe anything useful that I'm aware of (though I'm too lazy to Google at the moment). Sorry for picking nits but travel can be confusing enough as it is.

Dave Lincoln said at August 27, 2008 9:25 AM:

Direct flight means the same as nonstop flight, in terms of passenger booking.

Are you talking about direct routing, Pete? That has nothing to do with the post, though.

Maybe Google is not the answer. Thinking is.

Pete said at August 27, 2008 9:48 AM:

Technically, a direct flight for passenger booking means that you stay on the same plane for your entire trip but there are stops en route, as opposed to changing planes. Non stop means the plane flies to the ultimate destination without landing (stopping) at an intermediate airport.

As the conversation seems to be about taking off and landing as opposed to not doing so, this would seem to be a relevant distinction. I don't know if the phrase 'direct destinations' is a technical term of recent vintage, a marketing term or just a phrase Mr. Parker coined for this post, thus my Google reference. The linked article also throws in a single reference to 'direct flights' without explanation, which makes me wonder if the reporter got all of the facts straight or an uninformed editor confused things.

Sorry, I didn't mean to throw this off topic.

J said at August 27, 2008 9:57 AM:

"Direct flight means the same as nonstop flight, in terms of passenger booking"

Important safety/sanity tip for those booking flights: "Direct" means no change in flight number between origin and destination. That is all it means, and it doesn't mean anything else . It does NOT mean nonstop, in terms of passenger booking or any other terms. It doesn't even mean you won't have a connection. Sorry, but I've dealt with too many irate passengers over this issue to let this remark stand. I have no idea why airlines persist in using the term "direct" knowing that the public gives it a different meaning, but it drives frontline employees insane.

"So airplanes if airplanes carry less fuel and stop more often they become more fuel efficient"

Speaking of insanity, it looks like this one has been covered by other commenters pretty well, though no one has mentioned cycle-based maintenance items or ETOPS inspections. If you've got a link to that "report", please post it - it sounds like a hoot.

"But, any narrow body going up to a reasonable altitude, or even a heavy on a domestic route, does not need to step climb (mind you, some of the regional jets do tend to dog out when full in the summer time, but they can still keep some climb going into the low 30,000's)"

Don't know who you work for (Southwest?), but it's safe to say they don't operate maddogs or RJs.

Dave Lincoln said at August 27, 2008 10:28 AM:

Wow, I never knew that airlines advertised "direct flights" that have stops (i.e. are not direct). I can see the "irateness" happening, and can only blame the passengers for not really looking closely at the schedule. That is not a good term for that type of flight schedule.

For, J, I won't say, but even an MD or some of the RJ's (50 seaters) don't have to do a real step-climb. I mean, yes, you may have to level for 3-4 min. to get the speed up, but that's not a true step-climb (where the purpose is to burn off enough gas at the initial cruise altitude to get the plane light enough to make it up). I don't claim that these A/c can continue up at 1,500 ft/min like a 757, or even 800.

Brett Bellmore said at August 27, 2008 10:43 AM:

"I have no idea why airlines persist in using the term "direct" knowing that the public gives it a different meaning, but it drives frontline employees insane."

Aw, come on, you have an idea: They find it convenient if the public makes this mistake. If you can really term it a "mistake"; It's the public that's using the word "direct" in it's conventional meaning, and the airlines which have invented a non-conventional meaning for it, Humpty-Dumpty wise.

I expect the relative fuel efficiency of non-stop vs hopping depends in a detailed way on the route and conditions, with no a priori conclusion about which would be more efficient in all cases being possible.

aaron said at August 27, 2008 12:09 PM:

No, just like cars stop and go is less fuel efficient. The point must be scheduling, keeping the planes full.

John said at August 27, 2008 7:02 PM:

The fuel cost of carrying fuel is a non-linear function of leg length. For domestic flights, it isn't a significant factor, and is dominated by the cost of the extra miles, approach, and climb for an additional stop. But for long international legs, like that canceled NYC-Bangkok nonstop, it can be significant.

One way of observing the effect is to consider cargo flights--boxes don't complain about layovers. My understanding is that almost all US-Asia cargo flights involve a technical stop in Anchorage. There is no equivalent stop on transatlantic legs.

It would probably be more fuel efficient to do aerial refueling for long flights, but that is considered too dangerous for civilian ops.

Dave Lincoln said at August 27, 2008 7:54 PM:

John directly above: Interesting points. I agree with you totally that fuel burned carrying extra wt. is non-linear with leg distance. I am not sure on your comparison between freight and PAX over the Pacific. The reason the boxes go through Anchorage may be more due to sorting - or do the flights stop to refuel and that's it? I'd like to know - I have never been to Anchorage. Seems like, unless the great circle route would pass very close to over Anchorage anyway, it may not be worth it (again for the 2nd landing, taxiing, T/O and climb-out). I mean, not just based on fuel, but time too, as those big birds are costing a lot of money sitting on the ground. If the route is US east coast, or especially the South, to China, the stop may be necessary just on range alone.

Yeah, you're not gonna see aerial refueling for commercial flights for a lot of reasons. Number one is cost. Who's gonna pay for the tanker? With the military, cost is not the main factor. Commercial operations have to make a buck (or at least not lose too many in one year!). That's why this "taxi at a brisk walk speed" business is a bunch of nonsense, except to people that get their flying for free (military and FAA).

marko said at April 13, 2009 5:08 AM:

absolutely not true. the flights elimination is due to the over-congestion of the nyc airports and the new rules are being implemented of how many flights (per/hr etc.) are allowed to be scheduled per runway. it's been pretty messy in terms of flight consistent flight delays in all 3 of the nyc airports and the flight cuts are a result of this.

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