It takes time for new routes and new markets to develop. United Airlines waited a year to see if its service between San Francisco and Paine Field, just north of Seattle, could be successful. The answer for now appears to be a solid no. The carrier will cut its three daily flights operated by SkyWest from the schedule effective at the beginning of March.
Looking at the load factor, market share and average fare all suggest that United is likely making the correct decision here. While United’s load factors started to climb as Summer 2019 wore on the route’s performance was not great from a load factor perspective. Moreover, Alaska Airlines holds a 3:1 lead on market share and also edges United out on average fare, despite operating fewer daily flights. Put another way, more passengers are paying more to fly Alaska Airlines on the non-stop flight. The numbers may have shifted since the last data reported to the Department of Transportation (Q3 2019) but it was not great during the peak summer season for United.
United does use the Paine Field service to feed passengers through its hub at SFO, beyond just the non-stop traffic. But that is not enough to support the service.
United’s service from Paine Field to San Francisco also suffers more delays than the Alaska Airlines flights, lately at close to a 3:1 ratio (September-November 2019). And when the flights are late they are delayed more than the Alaska Airlines flights. For travelers using the flight to connect onward that operational (un)reliability and risk of missed connections makes for a poor passenger experience.
United Airlines will keep its Denver flights at Everett. That route is performing much better on loads and operational reliability. It is also performing better on fares, pulling in $159.58 on average.
Paine Field sees a limited number of daily flights owing to a slots cap. What will happen to the trio United is returning is unclear. Most likely is that Alaska Airlines will aim to grab them and further solidify its hold on the airport.