Many Stop Flights


Southwest Airlines has a lot of flights that make several stops during the course of a day. As an example, take a look at SWA1564:

daily except Saturday
OAK 6:45
LAS 8:15
LAS 8:45
OMA 13:25
OMA 13:55
STL 15:00
STL 15:35
HOU 17:40
HOU 18:10
PHX 18:50
PHX 19:20
SAN 20:25
SAN 20:50
SMF 22:20

I found this flight by randomly selecting a Southwest flight out of Oakland. I then looked at the flight’s history and noticed that Sacramento was in the routing. I looked at the Southwest timetable to get the departure times. You could probably use the FlightAware scheduled times in my challenge below.

**My challenge is for you to find other airline flights like this. You aren’t limited to Southwest Airlines.

Note that even though the flight goes to 8 different airports, you can’t buy a ticket for all segments. For example, you could buy a ticket on this flight for OAK-LAS or LAS-STL or HOU-SMF but not OAK-SAN or OMA-SMF

This flight also points out why of the reasons why it makes money: Aircraft utilization. This flight is in the air 12 hours 35 minutes out of the 15 hours 35 minutes it takes to go from OAK to SMF.


Other airlines have similar utilization - it’s just not as apparent because they don’t use through routing with the same flight number.

Also, it’s not in the air all those hours, it’s away from the gate those hours. There’s a difference.



This is just stuff that visits SAN…I haven’t even looked at LAX/ONT etc.

Interesting how 2267 goes east to west, then back east again…


What I’m talking about is a single flight number making many stops during the day.

Regarding aircraft utilization: Delta, Northwest, and other legacy airlines have lower aircraft utilization because they must route their aircraft through hubs. Their aircraft stay at a hub as long as, or longer than, any two enroute stops of Southwest.

What do you mean by “it’s not in the air all those hours, it’s away from the gate those hours. There’s a difference.” What’s the difference. They aircraft starts making money as soon as it departs the gate. “Flight time” begins at the time the aircraft departs the gate.




The same flight number doesn’t mean its the same plane. Lets say there is American flight 65. Lets say it fly’s Los Angeles to Dallas. Another American flight 65 might take off from O’hare to Miami an hour later. Very rarely will the same plane carry the same flight number throughout the day, so how many times a flight number fly’s isn’t an indication of fleet utilization. It might be for WN, but isn’t with other legacies. Now that’s not to say that WN doesn’t have better fleet utilization.


In Southwest’s case, it does mean the same plane. Using 1564 as an example, I can’t see them making a passenger buying a OAK-OMA, OMA-HOU, or HOU-SMF ticket and then making them get off at an intermediate point because they have a scheduled change of aircraft.

You example doesn’t make any sense. No airline would have a flight 65 (or whatever number) do a LAX-DFW AND ORD-MIA (or any other non-connected city pairs). It would be a nightmare for the reservations computer for one thing.

In domestic service, the so-called legacy airlines operate hub-and-spoke networks. As a result, it’s rare for a single flight to have more than two segments because when it gets to the end of the spoke it returns to the hub that it came from (or possibly another hub). As I mentioned above, no airline is going to use the same flight number for both the outbound and inbound flight (e.g. the DFW-RDU is not going to have the same flight number as RDU-DFW).

Southwest, without the constraint of hubs, can route an aircraft with many segments (e.g. OAK-LAS-OMA-STL-HOU-PHX-SAN-SMF) using only one flight number.

You did get it right when you said “(t)he same flight number doesn’t mean its the same plane.” Airlines use to do this quite often and still do, although not quite as much as in the past. TWA did this quite often with its European flights. The domestic portion of a flight would be, say, a 727 while the flight across the pond was a 707. Pan Am’s flights 811 and 812, operating between the west cost and Hong Kong via Australia, quite often was scheduled for a 747 on the flight between the USA and Australia and a 707 between Australia and Hong Kong.



I don’t know that SWA gets that many more segments/day or that much better utilization than others flying similar stage lengths (mostly RJs), they just keep the same flight number so it’s easier to see.


While not as long as the jet operators, Ameriflight operates some interesting flight. I have included links; the actual routing is from their latest service guide which may be different.

702 Metro BED-RIC-CLT-FTY-MCO (Sunday)

282 Navajo OAK-RNO-VGT-RNO-SAC-OAK (Monday-Friday)


Yea, I know the last two flights go against what I said about duplicate flight numbers for a given route in another posting but there’s always exceptions. Besides, cargo doesn’t care what the flight number is.


Many of the Flights that SkyWest and Mesa operate for United use the same flight number outbound and inbound.

Network carriers do use through flight numbers which sometimes does mean the same aircraft. For example, I was on an NW flight that operated ATL-MEM-MKE all on the same DC9. They also use the same flight number with different aircraft, often to connect major markets to their international flights, for example NW might fly NW1__ STL-DTW on a DC9 and DTW-AMS on an A330. They feel that by offering STL-AMS on the same flight number, that they have a slight marketing advantage over other carriers offering that itinerary. After all, it doesn’t really cost them anything and people DO like seeing 1 Stop rather than Connection - especially PAX from overseas.

Damiross - how do you know that network carriers have worse utilization? Have you worked in Aircraft scheduling for both Southwest and a major network carrier? Don’t believe everything you read in the media. Also, an airline’s utilization can vary greatly by fleet type. A short haul aircraft can have excellent utilization while the airline as a whole may look bad because of a handful of widebodies that sit at the hub for 5 hours so that they don’t end up getting to Europe at 3 AM or because the aircraft flies 2 9 hour flights a day and there’s nothing else economical for it to do in those other 6 hours. If you’re going to compare WN to other airlines, you have to compare it to their domestic narrowbody operation.

Braniff tried to solve the utilization problem in the mid 80’s by just running 727’s back and forth across the southwest all day long - it worked, they had fantastic utilization, they also lost a lot of money because those aircraft were mostly empty. “Utilizing” an aircraft more is only good when its utilization is generating positive cash flow.



Detroit Departure: 7:15 AM CDT
Phoenix Arrival: 7:10 PM CDT

Last Flight under this plan August 16th, 2008


It turned out that the actual in the air time
was 9 hours and 37 minutes on August 6th.

Left the Runway at OAK at 8:56 AM CDT
Lands on Runway at SMF at 11:59 PM CDT


Well, I am not damiross, but I can answer this. The answer is that Southwest has quicker turn around times on their planes then legacies of similar fleet types.

Even a 5-10 minute reduction will save millions a year. … nted=print


I’m sorry I wasn’t clear about this. I meant from the passenger’s point of view. As many of us know, United and a few other airlines also quite often have a different flight number for ATC purposes that that told to the customer.

I’m aware of this and have discussed it before on this forum. Delta was a major player in this. You’d think they had a dozen flights to London yet there was really only one (ATL/LGW). Looking in the flight routing section of their timetable, you’d see SHV-ATL-LGW, MSY-ATL-LGW, MEM-ATL-LGW, etc.

Regarding the multi-segment flights by a single aircraft: I know most airlines do this. It’s just that I was trying to point out that Southwest is doing it to the extreme.

I don’t believe everything I read in the media, especially when it comes to aviation.

I must be using wrong search terms because locating the daily aircraft utilization rate for different airlines on the web wasn’t very easy. I was able to find the following by looking in their latest annual reports. (This statistic is not in every annual report)

Continental: 11:34 (all mainline operations, up from 9:19 in 2003)
Southwest 11:41 (up from 11:09 in 2003)
Airtrans 11:00 (up from 10:56 in 2003)

Does anyone know where to get the figures for other airlines?

Part of Braniff’s problem was that right after deregulation they had many cities served with just one flight a day - e.g. ALB. What tourist wants to go to ALB? You can be sure that a businessman is going to want more than one flight a day to get to his destination.


Kinda makes me wonder about all the old DC-3 milk runs and how many flights used the same number…


The first flight I took by myself as a kid was RW812 (Hughes AirWest). Flight 812 originated in PHX, went to YUM (where I boarded), then IPL, LAX, FAT, SFO, one or two stops in Northern California (want to say RDD and CIC) then either LMT or MFR followed by PDx and it ended up in SEA.

While not a DC3 (it was a DC9), it followed what would be a DC3 type of route.


Quick turns doesn’t mean utilization, there’s also the overnight and NUMBER of turns you have to take into account. For example, in a 6 hour period if one aircraft does 3 1:47 min flights with 2 20 minute turns and another aircraft does 2 2:45 min flights with one 30 minute turn, the second aircraft has higher utilization with slower turns. While quicker turns obviously help, it does not mean you automatically have higher utilization than another carrier. Because of the number of short hops in WN’s early schedules (when they were pretty much only in Texas and surrounding states) they NEEDED to have quick turnarounds in order to maintain high utilization due to the sheer number of turns one of their aircraft was doing in a day. They have successfully taken those practices and applied it to a larger network.

Those flight numbers on UA aren’t just for ATC - those are the flight numbers that you book (go check their website and see).


Yes and Southwest has quicker turn around times and shorter flights.

Southwest average stage length (first six months 2008): 632 miles
all airlines average (Jan 2008): 721.7 miles … RN20080724 … 17_08.html


When they first started, one of Southwest’s main reason for short turns (in the beginning, it was 10 minutes at SAT and HOU) was because they wanted a high frequency of flights but they had a limited number of aircraft (~3 or 4).

You do make a good point. One thing you overlooked though is that while the 2nd aircraft made 2 flights, the first aircraft was able to make 3 flights and, hopefully, get more revenue.

I ran a spreadsheet on two aircraft starting the day at 0600 and ending the day as close to 2200 as possible. I feel this more closely represents the number of hours a day that an airliner is in service, whether flying or on the ground between flights.

The first aircraft flew an average of 1:47 per segment with 20 minute turns. The second aircraft did 2:45 segments with 30 minute turns.

Utilization for aircraft 1 was 14:16 and it completed 8 flights, arriving at the final airport at 2236.

The second flew 13:45 and completed its 5th and final flight of the day at 2145.

To make things interesting, I reversed the turn times. Aircraft 1, with 1:47 segments and now 30 minutes turns, could only complete 7 flights in order to end its day as close to 220 as possible (it finished at 2129). the utilization went down by 1:47 because it couldn’t complete as many flighs.

The second aircraft, now with 20 minutes turns, had no change in the utilization or number of flights. However, the last flight of the day now ended at 21:05 instead of 22:36.

By the way, did you know that Southwest has no scheduled overnight flights? Its latest flights all depart before midnight. They do have a few flights that arrive between midnight and 0100.


The above flights are not bookable on the UAL web page. You must book a flight with only digits in the flight number. The above flights are suffixed so that ATC is not inconvenienced by having two UAL flights in the air at the same time that have the same flight number. Probably also so numbered so that UAL dispatch won’t get confused.


The UA flights I am referring to are ones such as … heck=Check

The ORD-LAN and LAN-ORD segments are both marketed by UA as flight 7222.