Democratic Convention in Charlotte No Boon for US Airways

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- ( TheStreet) -- Having a national political convention in its biggest hub is not going to bring any particular financial benefit to US Airways ( LCC), which will lose business traffic even as it gains convention business.

Charlotte, where the Democratic National Convention is slated take place the week of Sept. 3, is the biggest and also the most profitable hub for US Airways. It is also the third biggest single airline hub in the United Statex, with 650 daily departures.

"We're happy to be having the Democratic Convention in the Charlotte hub," US Airways CEO Doug Parker said recently, during a speech to the National Press Club. "But please don't update your models to assume we're going to make a lot more money, because that's not what happens. People fly in and stay for a long time, and others avoid it. So we're not complaining about that, but it does not have a huge impact on airline revenues."

Parker compared the convention to the Olympics which, he said, "is one of these events that drives a lot of traffic in and out of the Olympics city, but generally not a lot of trips. That is, people come in, they stay a very long time and they leave. And people that were going to be traveling on business, decide there's no way they're going there during the Olympics. So it's not necessarily the best thing for an airline, to have the Olympics, or even a convention in your hub."

US Airways spokeswoman Michelle Mohr contrasted the convention with the Super Bowl, which took place in January in Indianapolis, which is not a hub. For that event, when the New England Patriots played the New York Giants, some carriers added flights to cities with traveling fans.

But in Charlotte, US Airways already has plenty of flights, as well as about 130 non-stop destinations. "You won't see us adding additional flights, like we did for the Super Bowl," Mohr said. Instead, what will change is the dynamic of the passenger traffic in a hub that is unusual because of its high percentage of connecting passengers.

Among U.S. hubs, Charlotte has the largest proportion of airline seats to local passengers, according to statistics compiled by United ( UAL) in its failed effort to prevent the Houston City Council from diminishing its hub at Houston Bush InterContinental by allowing Southwest ( LUV) to build an international operation at competing Houston Hobby. The study indicated that Charlotte has 5.3 seats per local passenger: In other words, Charlotte, like Houston, has far more seat capacity than its residents fill.

An average of 20,000 passengers arrive daily in Charlotte on US Airways flights and about 75% connect. On some flights, that proportion will diminish dramatically on key convention travel days. Mohr said the heaviest days for arrivals are Saturday, Sept. 1 and Sunday, Sept. 2, while the heaviest departure day is Friday, Sept 7. The situation is also complicated because Monday, Sept. 3 is Labor Day, and the three-day weekend is normally a heavy leisure travel time. Convention traveler fares could be higher than those leisure travel fares, but Mohr reminded that, as Parker said, business travel to Charlotte is expected to diminish.

Sept. 7 will be particularly difficult for departing passengers, with thousands arriving at the airport in cabs and buses. About 16,000 people are expected to attend the convention.

US Airways normally advises passengers to arrive one hour early for domestic travel and two hours early for international travel. On heavy holiday travel days, it recommends two hours early for domestic travel and three hours early for international. On Sept. 7, for Charlotte passengers, the recommendation is three hours early for domestic travel and four hours early for international travel.

This can also be described as a good day to stay home.

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