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What is the Hub and Spoke Model?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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The hub and spoke model is a system which makes transportation much more efficient by greatly simplifying a network of routes. It is extensively used in commercial aviation for both passengers and freight, and the model has also been adopted in the technology sector as well. Delta Airlines pioneered the method in 1955, but it wasn't until the 1970s, when the FedEx company took advantage of the concept, that the method really took hold, revolutionizing the way airlines were run.

The model is named after a bicycle wheel, which has a strong central hub with a series of connecting spokes. In the sense of aviation, an airline routes all of its traffic through one central hub or hubs; Dallas and Detroit, for example. Almost all of the airline's aircraft flies on spokes between destinations and the hub, with very few direct flights between other destinations. Routing all the traffic through the hub actually makes the overall system more efficient, although it can be frustrating for passengers at times.

Many airlines supplement their hub and spoke model with codeshares, partner flights, or a small commuter airline. For example, it would clearly be rather silly to fly passengers who needed to get to San Francisco from Los Angeles through Dallas. So, these passengers are put on a smaller commuter flight which connects these two locations. These commuter flights may also travel between spokes and less desirable locations which do not need to be connected directly to the hub.

The design of a hub and spoke model is highly efficient for a myriad of reasons. The first involves day to day operations of an airline or freight company. By centralizing control, the company can afford a smaller staff which concentrates on management from a central location. In the case of freight, all packages can be sorted at the hub, rather than sorted in multiple locations. This makes the freight company much more efficient, and reduces the risk of error. The hub and spoke system also ensures that most flights will be full or close to it.

There are, of course, disadvantages to a hub and spoke model. Any disruption at the hub, such as bad weather or a security problem, can create delays throughout the system. The overall operating efficiency is also limited by the capacity of the hub. Many airlines consciously choose different cities for hubs, so that two major airlines are not regarding the same airport as a hub. The airline must also schedule flights very carefully to ensure that all of the spokes are getting the service they need, and to keep passengers content.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WikiMotors researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon992325 — On Aug 31, 2015

Can we adopt this hub and spoke model for a retail and distribution business?

By anon350653 — On Oct 07, 2013

What's the difference between one hub and two or more hubs?

By Azuza — On Nov 30, 2012
@Pharoah - I've had the same experience waiting impatiently for a package to be delivered! I also saw an article on a blog awhile ago complaining about how inefficient the US Postal Service is because of the route of a package. However, after reading this I'm almost certain the Postal Service follows the hub and spoke model.
By Pharoah — On Nov 29, 2012

The hub and spoke model for transportation and shipping really does sound efficient when it's described like this. It can definitely be confusing to consumers, especially regarding shipping. I know there's been more than a few times when I've been tracking a package, and the path the package takes to me doesn't seem logical.

As someone who isn't in the transportation industry, I feel like a package should come straight from point A to point B. However, after reading this I know packages probably go from hub to hub to get to their final destination.

By strawCake — On Nov 29, 2012

@SZapper - The hub and spoke model does seem fairly counterintuitive if you don't know what's going on. However, it seems like air travel takes a lot of planning and organization to keep everything running efficiently, so I'm just glad there is some kind of system in place. I can only imagine how things would be if hub and spoke airlines didn't exist.

By SZapper — On Nov 28, 2012

I'm glad I stumbled on this explanation of hub and spoke logistics. I actually just took a flight to visit my grandmother a few days ago, and when I was booking my flight, I was amazed at some of the options that I found as far as connecting flights.

I ended up getting a direct flight between the two airports from one airline, so I'm assuming both airports are part of the hub and spoke system for this particular airline. However, I saw a few flights that were advertised on other airlines that made little sense at the time. But now it makes perfect sense if I take the hub and spoke model into account.

By anon82839 — On May 07, 2010

The port can be a hub by being supply driven.

Its requirements includes: centralizing control.

By getting into the interland.

By anon5512 — On Nov 27, 2007

how can a port be a hub?what are the requirements???

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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