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American Isn’t As Weak in Asia As You Might Think

Many people have used the excuse that since US Airways doesn’t bring American what it really needs, more Asian service, it’s not a worthwhile merger. Naturally, I disagree that not having much in Asia is a reason to abort a merger, but that’s not the point of this post. The point here is to show that American is not actually as weak in Asia as you might think. In fact, it has the ability to be competitive with Delta, though certainly behind powerhouse United.

Let’s start with a simple chart. These are the number of weekly flights this summer from the Continental US to Asia for the big three US airlines, including their joint venture partners.

Continental US to Asia Weekly Flights

This isn’t all of the Asian service offered by each airline, so let me explain why I’ve broken it out this way. First, I’ve left off the substantial Delta and United operations that go from Tokyo to secondary cities in Asia. That would make Delta way bigger than American, but I don’t think it matters. American can get that benefit through its joint venture partner JAL. (United also gets that through ANA besides its own Tokyo hub.)

Second, I’m only looking at flights between the Continental US and Asia nonstop. I’m talking specifically about the Continental US, because both Delta and United have flights between Honolulu and Asia. Those are primarily focused on Asian travelers on holiday so it’s not really relevant to determining how well US carriers serve Asia for their US-based travelers.

Lastly, I’m including joint venture flights operated by ANA under United and by JAL under American, because since it’s a joint venture, those flights should be considered their own. Sure, there is work to be done before the experience is seamless, but the path is there.

With that in mind, here’s how the current landscape looks.
US Gateways to Asia for US Carriers

Asian Destinations for US Carriers
Sorry for all the airline/airport code abbreviations, but I couldn’t fit the full names on these maps. So what stands out here? American clearly provides the least utility, but it has good promise with JAL and in particular, the 787.

King United
United is the undisputed champion when it comes to flying between the US and Asia, and much of that is due to its hub in San Francisco. That has the ability to support flights to secondary markets that don’t work from many other places. United is also the only US carrier to fly from the US to Hong Kong nonstop, though of course, American codeshares with Cathay Pacific.

United has deeper penetration into China on its own airplanes with flights from more gateways. There is another strength in that United flies from 10 mainland cities to Tokyo to feed that hub. Overall, with over 200 weekly flights between the US and Asia this summer, United (including ANA) is nearly double its next competitor and can provide the most single stop itineraries between the US and Asia.

Then there’s Delta. Delta has two real strengths here. One is Detroit, which has an auto industry that can support flights to cities like Nagoya. That hub provides great connectivity from the eastern US. Then in the West, Delta has done a good job of blanketing the west coast with flights to Tokyo in order to feed those people through that hub to places within Asia. With 112 119 weekly flights, it’s a very solid performance considering it’s doing all the flying itself.

Lastly, there’s American. You might be surprised to know that with its joint venture partner JAL, American has only one two fewer flights per day as compared to Delta between the Continental US and Asia. Not what you expected, right? Me neither, to be honest.

American’s Mix of Good and Bad
If you look at the Asian map, American and JAL have good service to Tokyo with options from 7 cities (though one, SFO, is to Haneda without connections), and it’s getting better every day. When JAL gets more 787s (and they aren’t grounded), we’ll see more service like we see to Boston and San Diego. I have to assume Phoenix will likely see a 787 after the merger, opening up a lot of connecting options.

Other cities in the US can support that airplane too. It could also mean flights from bigger US cities to smaller Japanese cities like Osaka or Nagoya. And then, JAL can take those people and connect them through Asia. This will significantly improve American’s ability to get people in big cities to Asia with one stop. And the combination with US Airways will give a lot more two-stop options to secondary Asian cities from small cities through the West and East.

Where does American have weaknesses? China is really the biggest one I see. It has three daily flights from the Continental US to China but United has 7 8 (10 11 if you include Hong Kong) and it has an alliance partner in Air China. Delta has fewer, but it also has alliance partners in China Eastern and China Southern. American is effectively frozen out, and I’m not sure how to get back in. (Yeah, Hainan is there, but that’s pretty tiny. And Cathay is great for Hong Kong, but it’s a huge backtrack to get into mainland China.)

The Western US is also going to be a challenge. Delta can either funnel people through Tokyo from big West Coast cities, or it can increasingly send people up through Seattle via Alaska Airlines. United can also do Tokyo or go through the big SFO hub. American has less opportunity there. But with JAL and the 787, that should narrow the gap. And Phoenix will help with smaller cities in the West.

So yes, it’s true that American is far from the leader in Asia, but it’s not nearly as weak as most people think.

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