When American first started to build up Los Angeles, before the merger with US Airways, I thought it was crazy. There was too much competition in the market, and it wasn’t worth fighting for. Once the new management team came in with the merger, I figured this nonsense would end. I was wrong; the growth didn’t stop. LA continues to be a focus for the airline, and yesterday, American piled on with more gates, more routes, and more sponsorships.
This time, American is really going for the Hollywood crowd. It’s not the routes that make that clear, so much, but rather the community partnerships. The event yesterday wasn’t held at LAX as usual. It was held at the Hollywood Bowl, where American also revealed it was now the official airline of the facility. It’s also now partnering with The Hollywood Reporter.
The event itself was really fascinating to observe. There were no celebrities at the event (unless you count a couple of Clipper Spirit dancers). There were, however, representatives from studios, music labels, and large agencies being wooed by the sales team.
Was this important? I’d say so considering how many people American trucked in for this and the employee townhall the day before. There were at least a couple SVPs there (Andrew Nocella, SVP and Chief Marketing Officer and Kerry Philipovitch, SVP of Customer Experience). There were VPs as well including marketing, network planning, customer planning, and more. Throw on top some managing directors and the turnout was impressive. This wasn’t just management though. They made a point to also bring flight attendants, mechanics, and customer service too.
To me the point was clear. American is getting even more serious about LA. It’s going to keep growing its flights and it’s going to improve its facilities the best it can.
New Gates and Routes
As you probably know, American’s facility situation is not good. It has Terminal 4 for its mainline operations as well as a few gates in Terminal 6. It has recently started pushing some flights from the Bradley Terminal next door. In addition, it has its Eagle remote terminal (buses, bleh) for the large and increasing regional operation. This is all over the map, and now American is adding another 20 flights a day to the mix. How the heck is that going to work?
For starters, American is physically adding two gates to Terminal 4. If you’re wondering how the airline is managing this magic trick, it’s thanks to the changing aircraft being used in LA. There are very few if any 757s and 767s in the market still, and those require bigger parking spots. With A321s taking over much of that flying, American can now shrink the footprint for its gates. So, one gate will be added on the east side with the jet bridge coming in near the food truck in the rotunda. Then another gate will be added along the back of the rotunda.
If you think this is going to make overcrowded Terminal 4 even worse, you’re right. But American is ripping out the existing seating and putting in a different design which will increase seating capacity.
Further, the behind security connector between the Bradley Terminal and Terminal 4 will be opening in just a couple short months. That will make it much easier to use gates over there when needed.
That’s how American is going to handle this new flying. The destinations themselves are interesting too. American is finally adding long-rumored Seattle and Portland to the map. I can’t imagine Alaska is happy about that, but then again, Alaska flies routes like Seattle to DFW and Chicago. It’s just flying between the hubs that will help them both in the end.
Looking at other markets like Anchorage (seasonal), Minneapolis, Kansas City, New Orleans, Omaha, and Hartford (a market which was cut not too long ago), you can see a pattern of American slowly trying to blanket every city it can find. And the seasonal markets of Durango, Jackson Hole, Montrose, and Vail… well that will make the Hollywood crowd happy.
I still can’t believe all this service makes sense, but then again with oil prices as low as they are, a lot of stuff can make sense. I spoke with a lot of people at this event, people who know the numbers and who I trust. They say LA really is performing well and they want to keep growing. Go figure.
This brings us back to the sponsorships, which are a key part of trying to grow a deeper connection with the community. It makes American more than just an airline that flies to the nearest airport. If the airline is set on building LA, then I think it’s smart to pursue this community strategy.
Delta learned long ago that this worked. And it started to develop good relationships in Hollywood once it began investing in the LA market a few years back. American apparently agrees because it’s going down the same path.
And United? Well United in LA is the subject of a different post I need to write. It’s just not making the same commitment. Sure the airline is the official airline of the Oscars, but United tries to turn that into a Chicago thing. Every year, it flies the statues out from Chicago where they’re made. And if you look at United’s partner page, it shows larger sponsorships in its hubs. LA isn’t even listed.
American and Delta appear to be interested in building up flying at all costs in LA, and that means trying to win hearts and minds. As a traveler who lives in the area, this can only mean good things. I love overcapacity and fare wars. But I still just can’t wrap my head around both of these guys becoming “LA’s hometown airline.” It’s gonna be a heck of a fight.