American Kills St Louis, Strengthens Other Hubs

Yesterday, American announced a massive change to its route strategy that will result in the death of the St Louis hub. At the same time, the rest of the hubs will be strengthened. I feel like the sleeping giant finally woke up from a long nap. So far, I like what I see.

Apparently, American has decided that it has four hubs these days. I knew about Miami, Dallas/Ft Worth, and Chicago/O’Hare, but now they are also calling New York/JFK a hub. As they say, “These four cities, along with Los Angeles, serve as the cornerstones of the Company’s network.” So that is where things will be strengthened. Meanwhile, St Louis gets gutted. Let’s start with the biggest news and then move on from there.

St Louis – Death of the Hub – The old TWA hub in St Louis will finally receive a stake in the heart. After this culling, there will be only 36 flights a day to nine cities. Talk about an empty airport. Instead of listing the massive number of cities losing service, I’ll just explain which ones keep it. There will be flights from St Louis to the five focus cities (four hubs plus LAX) as well as Boston, New York/LaGuardia, Seattle, and Washington/National. That’s it. If you’ve ever wanted to see a ghost airport that’s technically still in use, this is it.

St Louis Mayor Francis Slay thinks American is making a big mistake. Will any other airlines agree with him? We’ve seen Southwest recently add flights to Boston and Midwest just picked up the St Louis – Milwaukee run. I doubt we’ll ever see St Louis as a hub again, but this could open up some opportunities for limited additional flying for other airlines.

American Pulls Down St Louis, Fights United in Chicago

Chicago/O’Hare – Watch Out, United – O’Hare is the only other airport seeing significant changes, and these all appear to be aimed at United. The airline will add 57 new flights here, and I have to assume that these will be accommodated by taking over Delta’s old L concourse. New cities include Beijing, Vancouver, and Calgary internationally and Allentown, Anchorage, Charleston/WV, Dayton, Fargo, Harrisburg, Honolulu, Jacksonville, Lexington, Rapid City, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and Sioux Falls.

Nearly every one of these cities (with the exception of Anchorage and Rapid City) is served nonstop by United today. So United, watch out. American is gunning for you again. Anchorage is served by Alaska, and they seem to be moving closer to Delta, so this isn’t a huge surprise to see American distance itself further.

O’Hare will actually lose 11 daily mainline flights, but it will gain 41 small regional jet flights and 27 CRJ-700 flights. The CRJ-700 fleet will now be focused on O’Hare. American will order more of them for Eagle, and they will be getting First Class onboard. This is clearly meant to offer a more competitive product to United’s 70 seat jets with First Class.

Dallas/Ft Worth – Shuffling in Place – Dallas actually doesn’t see much of a route change here except for the addition of flights to San Salvador. The bigger change is around shuffling aircraft. Dallas will have 19 net new flights. Twenty three of those will be on small regional jets, five will be on props, and 17 will be on mainline jets. So how do we get to only 19? Well, 26 daily CRJ-700 flights will disappear as they refocus that plane in Chicago to compete with United.

Miami – Small Boost – New flights from Miami to a few cities in the Bahamas, Knoxville, and Charleston/SC have already been announced, so the only new cities to come online in this announcement will be Birmingham and Pensacola. There will be a net increase of 23 daily flights with 5 mainline jets, 10 small regional jets, and 8 props. Miami has seen a lot of shifting lately with the retirement of the A300s, so this is just more settling, I think.

New York/JFK – Hub It Up – I had never actually heard American call JFK a hub, but now it looks like they’re ready to do so. Does this mean they’re going to take on Delta for supremacy? Not exactly. The only changes so far involve adding 7 daily flights to Austin, Columbus, and St Louis domestically with Madrid, Manchester/UK, and San Jose/CR internationally. The Madrid and Manchester flights are in anticipation of the strengthening of the alliance with British Airways and Iberia. St Louis is just connecting the dots since it only goes to LaGuardia today.

Los Angeles – Not Much – LAX gets 1 new mainline flight, 1 new regional jet flight, and no new destinations. Pfffft.

Other Random Changes – There are also a couple other random changes as they try to reshape the network. Raleigh/Durham will lose St Louis (duh) along with Hartford and Columbus. Boston, meanwhile, will lose flights to Columbus and San Diego. San Juan will gain flights to Nevis, the little island paradise.

Whew, that’s a lot of changing. So far, I like what I see here. We knew the St Louis hub was in trouble as it continued to shrink, and really, this is the end of the TWA legacy from the acquisition. (TWA will still live on via the old London/Heathrow route authorities, I suppose.)

Getting more CRJ-700s and putting First Class on them is a big move as well. It’s clear that United is a big focus here. The death of St Louis has caused American to look at building its hubs up into stronger entities. I think that’s a smart move. American looks like it’s ready to fight, and now that they’ve raised a bunch of new cash, they’re well-positioned to do just that.

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