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A provision to add five additional long-distance flights out of DCA in the FAA bill has sent airlines in a frenzy to apply for one of the new slots.

Given its proximity to Washington, D.C., slots — especially long-distance ones — at the heavily congested Reagan National Airport are highly coveted. 

The airport limits flights to within a 1,250 radius, but 40 flights have been exempt from that rule. Now, the airport will see five additional slots for long-distance flights after the FAA bill was signed into law last week. And airlines are in a scramble to apply for them. 

Adding extra slots at Reagan National was so controversial that it was one of the reasons the FAA bill was held up in Congress for a year. Local senators were heavily opposed to the bill, arguing that it could create more delays at the airport, which is already dealing with slot constraints. 

According to the FAA bill, the slots will have to be allocated within 60 days of the act becoming law. 

San Antonio and San Diego?

Before President Joe Biden had even signed the FAA bill into law, American Airlines announced a partnership with San Antonio International Airport to launch flights between the Texas city and DCA.

“We have been working for more than a decade to give residents of America’s seventh-largest city the same access to our nation’s leaders as nearly every other major city in the country,” said San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg in a statement.  

Texas senators had been lobbying for a San Antonio flight to DCA. Senator Ted Cruz, the ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee that drafted the final FAA bill, has been vocal about his support for San Antonio-DCA flights. 

Alaska Airlines is also eyeing one of the extra DCA slots. The Seattle-based carrier announced that it intends to apply for flights between San Diego and DCA. San Diego had been widely expected to be one of the U.S. cities to get a DCA flight with the extra slots. 

“San Diego is the largest market without nonstop service to Reagan National Airport,” said Andrew Harrison, Alaska Airlines Chief Commercial Officer.

Southwest Airlines announced Monday evening that it would apply for daily nonstop service between DCA and Las Vegas.

 “We look forward to demonstrating to the DOT that Southwest’s proposal will maximize benefits to the traveling public,” Southwest CEO Bob Jordan said in a statement.

Some Airlines Supported Extra Slots, Some Were Against

A Delta Air Lines spokesperson said the carrier is considering options of the newly available slots. 

“The provision authorizing five additional roundtrip flights at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) will create much needed competition for all air travelers seeking access to the nation’s capital region,” Delta said in a statement. “Delta looks forward to the Department of Transportation’s award process.” 

Delta was also part of a major lobbying campaign to increase the number of long-distance slots of DCA by as much as 28 additional flights. 

United Airlines — which uses Dulles International Airport as a hub and was previously against adding more slots to DCA — declined to comment on the matter. 

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Tags: alaska airlines, american airlines, business travel, dca, delta air lines, senate, southwest airlines, united airlines

Photo credit: Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Thomas Hawk/Flickr Thomas Hawk / Flickr

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