Travel Trends

Recent Study Cites Airline Hub Relocation As Major Factor in U.S. Airport Decline: Memphis International Most Affected

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Recent Study Cites Airline Hub Relocation as Major Factor in U.S. Airport Decline

Upgraded Points released a detailed study that revealed the reasons behind the fastest growing and declining airports in the U.S. over the last 10 years. The research indicates that the declining traffic rates were related to airline hub shifts and relocations, in addition to economic factors within the surrounding communities.

Using data compiled by the Federal Aviation Administration, Upgraded Points examined each year between 2007 and 2017, with numbers based on passenger enplanement. Only airports that had over three million passengers in 2007 were considered, which served as a baseline for air traffic data studied throughout the decade.

Fastest Declining Airports in the U.S.: Memphis International (MEM) and Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International (CVG)


Although Memphis has significant measured population growth over the last decade, and a thriving economy, a subsequent related increase in air traffic for Memphis was not indicated in the Upgraded Points study. This inconsistency is probably related in part to Delta's decision to gradually phase out Memphis as a hub, transferring most of that traffic to Atlanta instead.

Before the shift, Delta once offered over 200 daily departures to 49 cities across the continental U.S. from Memphis. But though Delta still lists the city as one of its seven hubs, Memphis now ranks last in terms of daily air traffic of those hubs.

Some of the major cancelled Delta routes from Memphis included Baton Rouge, Jackson (Miss.), Knoxville, Tulsa and St. Louis. Other greatly reduced routes included Austin, Columbus (Ohio), Houston, Nashville and Indianapolis. While other flights, like Las Vegas and Salt Lake City became seasonal.

Hub shifts are likely responsible in large part for the reduction in air traffic at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International as well. Although CVG is quickly turning those numbers around due to the entrance of Southwest Airlines into the market in 2017, driving a significant growth trend.

"Many think that increase and decrease in air traffic are always directly linked to the economy of the airport's host city. That does seem by far the most logical conclusion: if a city is doing well, so must the airport. But our research indicates other factors are important as well. Airports with the greatest growth rates, up or down, are a result of a multiplicity of factors: economics of the host city, hub shifts, etc.," said Upgraded Points founder, Alex Miller.

The full Upgraded Points study includes all airports that made both Top 10 lists, and an analysis of overall trends with a discussion of future predictions. Many of the airports discussed continue to serve as hubs for big carriers like American, Delta, JetBlue and United.

More information related to the air traffic study can be found here.



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