Darlene’s Story

Darlene is a high school social sciences teacher at a Title I school near Los Angeles, California who has taken her students to Washington, D.C. for more than 25 years. She shares:

“These kids come from low-income families. We depend on donations to pay for flights, but an outdated federal rule makes tickets so expensive. Congress, we need your help.”

–Darlene Torres

Think DCA is at capacity? Think again.

As bipartisan efforts to make air travel more affordable and efficient move through Congress, a misinformation campaign by a United Ailines-backed coaltion seeks to limit choices and increase costs at Reagan National Airport (DCA). The false claims are about obstructing competition in the D.C. marketplace and have nothing to do with capacity at DCA. Here’s the FAA’s own data exposing their falsehoods.

FAA Data Confirms: DCA Can Handle Increased Capacity:

An analysis of data from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) shows that Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) has the capacity to add more flights, contradictory to information found in a recent unsigned FAA memo.

DCA operates with three low-volume periods during the day, which creates an opportunity to add additional flights during slower operating times.

We’re Setting the Record Straight:

As bipartisan efforts to make air travel more affordable and efficient for Americans traveling to/from Washington D.C. have gained support in Congress, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) has partnered with United Airlines to form a new political organization, “The Coalition to Protect America’s Regional Airports,” aimed at blocking less costly and more accessible flights.

This new “coalition” claims – falsely – that if any changes are made to the “perimeter rule,” which was established by Congress nearly 60 years ago to limit the number of flights to and from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA), it would harm regional airports and their communities.  Notably, however, virtually none of the “Coalition to Protect America’s Regional Airports” members are actually regional airports that serve DCA and the reality is that no regional airports would be negatively impacted by the legislation that has been introduced in Congress to modernize the outdated perimeter rule.

Further, MWAA’s opposition comes even as a new statewide poll shows that in the Commonwealth of Virginia alone (the home to Dulles international Airport (IAD) and DCA) most residents support modernizing the 1960s perimeter rule and adding more flights at DCA.

Due to the fact that publicly stating that you oppose more competition and lower ticket prices is not a winning argument, MWAA and United have chosen to advance the misleading narrative that somehow adding more flights at DCA would lead to cuts to existing flights at regional airports.

The problem with that argument? It’s not true. The bipartisan legislation that has been introduced in Congress – H.R. 3185 – would only be additive. It would do nothing to replace or eliminate any flights to regional airports.

See this news story from WLBT in Jackson, Mississippi where CAA spokesman Brian Walsh breaks it down for viewers:

Bottom Line: For any regional airports concerned about maintaining access to and from DCA, they should support, not oppose, the bipartisan Direct Capital Access Act.

Each of them could potentially benefit from additional service since the DCA Act calls for adding 28 in- and beyond-perimeter direct flights at DCA, not swapping or removing flights. Claims from bill opponents that suggest otherwise are completely without merit and aimed at misleading the public, in-perimeter communities and even Members of Congress, which rightfully rely on direct access to Washington D.C.

False Claim: The DCA Act would threaten existing flights to in-perimeter destinations and smaller, regional airports.

The Truth: The DCA Act would ADD an additional 28 flights, covering BOTH in- and beyond-perimeter destinations from DCA. This legislation would not replace or eliminate them… But instead, add more options for travelers near and far.

Check out the visual below. We made some corrections to help set the record straight.

False Claim: DCA is “already operating at maximum capacity.”

The Truth: A new study found that the opposite is true, and DCA has enough capacity to handle as many as 90 additional flights per day. What the DCA Act proposes adding is less than one-third of that.

But don’t take our word for it… Check out below a section from a November 2020 U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that cites the FAA:

“[T]here are currently 39 total daily unallocated slots available for commercial airlines at Reagan National … [it] is also operating well below the 12 maximum authorized hourly reservations for general aviation aircraft.  Our review of FAA data for July through August of 2019 found that, on average, fewer than one general aviation reservation was used each hour (or almost 13 per day).”

–GAO Report, November 2020

False Claim: Changes to the perimeter rule “would make air travel more expensive for the D.C. region.” 

The Truth: The same study found that D.C. already has the most expensive domestic airline ticket prices among the country’s top 10 metropolitan areas. That’s because supply is not meeting demand.

The study found that modernizing the perimeter rule and adding more flights would lower ticket prices by as much as $60 per passenger.

False Claim: Opposing the DCA Act will “strengthen and protect” regional airports…

The Truth: Groups opposing the DCA Act are trying to mislead the public and Congress. Unfortunately, even their first tweet is misleading. On the one hand, they say the DCA perimeter rule should remain unchanged (hint, it was established by CONGRESS in 1966) BUT then claim local communities should make local airport decisions.

Also worth noting… When the Coalition to Protect America’s Regional Airports launched on May 31, just ONE of the nearly 30 groups listed as members of their coalition even has a current direct flight from DCA.

That’s because the opposition isn’t interested in protecting regional airports – they’re only interested in limiting competition and choices for air travelers.

Oh, and by the way… Claims that regional routes could be “eliminated” if the DCA Act passes are baseless.

In fact, the legislation has zero language in it that would call for a removal of flights. All the DCA Act does is add 28 more flights. It would be up to individual airlines to manage their business and routes to and from DCA.

Hearing that your local airport could lose flights to and from DCA? Here’s who to talk to about that…

Destinations Served by DCA, by Carrier

The DCA Act only adds flights… Cuts would be up to individual airlines. Hearing that your flight to and from DCA is being threatened? Here’s who to talk to:

Click here to view the full map

Oh, and we’ve seen this before from United…

In 2012, Southwest announced it hoped to expand international service at the William P. Hobby Airport (HOU). But United Airlines – which controlled most of the flights at Houston’s larger airport, George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) – strongly opposed this effort and told the Houston City Council that it would have to cut flights and workers if the new flights were approved. 

History is repeating itself today, as United Airlines is using some of the same arguments it did back then, including cuts to service.

In the end, after the Houston City Council rejected United’s arguments, not only did United not cut service in Houston – they expanded it.