American Airlines Seeks to Fly from San Antonio to D.C. Seven Days a Week

July 9, 2024

Jul. 8—American Airlines is pressing to win federal regulators' OK to operate a daily flight from San Antonio International Airport to Washington Reagan National Airport, with Texas lawmakers exerting political pressure and local backers submitting more than 100 letters of support.

San Antonio leaders have tried, but failed, to win nonstop service to Washington, D.C., for decades, stymied by rules restricting the number of direct flights to Reagan National (DCA). But a bill re-authorizing the Federal Aviation Administration, which Congress passed in May, gives San Antonio's airport a shot.

Fort Worth-based American on Monday submitted its application to operate a daily, nonstop flight between San Antonio International (SAT) and Reagan National.

If the Transportation Department, which includes the FAA, green-lights the service this summer, it will be the Alamo City's first nonstop flight to the coveted Arlington airport, which is widely considered the most convenient for travelers heading to D.C.

American's application calls for a flight to leave San Antonio every morning at 6:35 a.m. and land in DCA at 11 a.m. The flight from D.C. would take off at 7:45 p.m. and land at SAT at 10:20 p.m.

The first flight's number would be 1718 to recognize the year that San Antonio was founded. The flight from DCA to SAT would be 1947 to commemorate the year the U.S. Air Force was established.

PAST REPORTING: Local business leaders, Sen. Ted Cruz optimistic about getting S.A. a direct flight to D.C. But is it likely?

San Antonio business and government leaders say military personnel based here and the city's medical, cybersecurity and information technology companies need easier access to the nation's capital.

"Here in San Antonio we have the largest concentration of intelligence and cybersecurity professionals outside of the Washington national region," Mayor Ron Nirenberg said at a news conference announcing American's application Monday. "We're also experiencing rapid growth in the health care and biosciences sectors. A connection between DCA and SAT is not just a convenience but is a necessity for our city's continued prosperity."

"It's about connecting Military City, USA to Washington Reagan National — that is our hope," Airport Director Jesus Saenz said.

Past attempts to secure nonstop service here to Washington, D.C., failed because of opposition of airlines and public officials who backed regulations strictly limiting traffic to Reagan National, known as the slot rule and the perimeter rule.

The slot rule reduces congestion at DCA by controlling the number of takeoffs and landings at the airport. The perimeter rule prohibits flights to or from airports outside a 1,250-mile boundary around DCA. Supporters say the rules prevent additional congestion and delays at Reagan National.

The FAA reauthorization bill that President Joe Biden signed into law in May opened up five new round-trip flights out of the D.C. airport.

American's application included more than 150 letters of support from the San Antonio community, including policymakers, mayors, military organizations and chambers of commerce, according to a news release from the airline.

Until July 17, anyone can go online to submit comments of support directly to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Also, 36 senators and members of Congress sent a letter last week to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg urging him to allocate San Antonio one of the new long-haul, round-trip flights to DCA. The letter had bipartisan support, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R- Texas), U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro (D- San Antonio) and U.S. Rep. Chip Roy (R- Austin).

The letter notes airlines applying to offer new round-trip flights to Reagan National must show that they will benefit travelers from communities without existing nonstop service to DCA, or increase competition in the markets served by the new routes.

"As one of the largest cities in the country without a direct flight to DCA, San Antonio undoubtedly meets the letter and spirit of the legislation," the letter reads.

Monday was the last day airlines could submit applications for a nonstop flight to DCA. A Transportation Department spokesperson said the final decision on slot allocations will be made "in a timely manner" after the deadline for comments.

United Airlines has nonstop flights to Washington-Dulles International Airport in Virginia, but many D.C.-bound travelers have to grab connecting flights to DCA.

American currently operates more than 25 daily flights from the San Antonio airport to seven U.S. cities.


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