American Gets Competitive With Flat Beds in the Crowded Los Angeles to Boston Market

The news came as a surprise to me.  After many years of saying that it just didn’t have enough premium-configured A321T aircraft to fly beyond the traditional transcon routes of New York/JFK to both LA and San Francisco… American apparently found aircraft time.  Beginning April 2, you can expect to see flat beds up front on two of American’s six daily flights between LA and Boston.  This is all about LA, and I doubt it’s because American thinks this will work economically.  It’s just a competitive necessity in the flat bed arms race.

For years, the only domestic routes with any sort of true premium demand were LA and San Francisco to New York.  Fares were high and demand was strong, so airlines continually tried to get a bigger piece of that premium pie.  The first big move was United’s launch of p.s. in the early ’00s.  The idea at the time was that United didn’t care about coach travel.  Instead, it outfitted a fleet of 757s with a bunch of first and business class seats, and it slashed the number of coach seats onboard.  It succeeded at getting more of that high-dollar traffic.

American was flying around lumbering old 767-200s at the time.  It had a ton of coach seats and a tired premium offering, but it was a hugely important player.  So when the time came to replace the 767s, it went with a similar strategy as United did years before.  Its vehicle of choice was the A321, and it created the A321T product

American A321T Business Class

United had cast out its first class product in favor of more business class, but American would do no such thing.  It went forward with a three-cabin approach that mimicked United’s original plan (with a better onboard product), yet now American was the only airline with first class in the market.

American A321T First Class

I scoffed at this plan and thought American was making a mistake, but I was proven wrong, at least on LA flights where the rich and famous flocked to the first class offering.  (I’ve heard much more mixed reviews of how happy American is with it in San Francisco.)

It wasn’t long after this rolled out that JetBlue launched Mint, and things changed.  Fares had skyrocketed in the premium cabins, and JetBlue saw opportunity.  It took its new A321s and put flat beds of its own onboard, creating a premium experience that travelers instantly loved.  For JetBlue, this was a product that could make money at relatively low fares.  That wasn’t necessary in New York — JetBlue start raising fares there almost as soon as the product gained traction — but it gave JetBlue the ability to put this product in other, thinner markets where there wasn’t nearly as much demand.

This worked wonders in market after market, and the big guys were left wondering how to match, if at all.  I figured Delta would be most aggressive, and it did start moving its 757s around into secondary markets.  But no airline has matched the breadth of what JetBlue has done.

One of the markets where JetBlue showed promise was from Los Angeles to Boston.  JetBlue started off with a partial Mint schedule while other flights remained on aircraft with only the traditional “Core” JetBlue all-coach option.  That didn’t last.  Now JetBlue has four flights a day, all with Mint cabins.

Delta, meanwhile, has up to three flights a day, all on 757s with flat beds up front.  United has the same.  American has the best schedule in the market with six daily flights, but it now had an inferior premium offering in a market that probably can’t sustain all these premium seats.

Many times over the years I’ve spoken with the powers that be, and I’ve been told that American just didn’t have enough A321T aircraft time to be able to fly other markets.  Sure, there were the random positioning tag flights like JFK to Boston to help with aircraft logistics.  And sure, there were the one-offs, like the service from LA to Toronto for the stars to get to the Toronto Film Festival.  But American didn’t have the aircraft to expand into new longer markets on a regular basis.  Now it has apparently solved that problem.

Beginning April 2, two of the six daily American LA to Boston flights will get the A321T.  You can see how this rotation will work.  From LA, an airplane will leave at 7:45am arriving Boston at 4:15pm.  It will then turn around at 5:45pm getting back to LA at 9:15pm.  It (or another airplane from New York) then turns around at 9:55pm and arrives Boston at 6:22am.  That airplane comes back to LA at 7:25am arriving 10:55am.

How did they find the aircraft time?  I had figured maybe the weaker San Francisco – New York flight frequencies were being trimmed, but I was wrong.  I was told this by spokesperson Michelle Mohr:

It hasn’t changed in the schedule yet, but the 6AM LAX-JFK is going to be retimed to a third red-eye, which is what gives us the time to add both trips.  That and some very minor adjustments in JFK schedule timing. 

Remember, out of LAX there’s already a 7am, 8am, and 9am, so moving the 6am may feel like a small price to pay to be able to add a new market.  But will this new market do well?

This feels like a sales-driven competitive move to me.  I have no doubt that the big accounts are banging on American’s door, telling them to get flat beds so they can fly American to Boston instead of flying the others.  This will allow that to happen.  But is there enough demand for all these premium seats?  That’s now over 200 flat beds per day flying each direction.  I will be amazed if these moves make sense for everyone.  But other than for JetBlue, this goes back to the fight for LA.

American wants to be the biggest in LA even if it will never truly “win” the market.  Like many of the moves the airline has made in LA, this may make sense from a strategic perspective, but I can’t say I expect it will necessarily pay off economically.  On the other hand, the A321T has proven me wrong before…

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23 Responses to American Gets Competitive With Flat Beds in the Crowded Los Angeles to Boston Market

  1. FC says:

    AA is going to loose money on this for sure, but it was already bleeding money on this route while having the most capacity to fill and the worst product. B6 had a huge premium over them. Now, they will probably loose a little more money but will be able to keep the ff and corporate clients happy. They are going to run into some problems I think with only 2 out of 5 or 6 flights on A321T.

    DL is going to suffer here. Another route they tried to up the game and challenge mint, but will now stuck battling all the legacies for premium traffic on a route that has much less yielding than JFK-SFO/LAX. They already gave up on trying to fly lie flat on BOS-SFO after UA’s move crushed them. They are stronger at LAX than at SFO, but AA gets the highest yielding traffic out of LAX.

    AS will probably be gone in the next year. Worst product and weakest point of sale.

    • TC99 says:

      Quote:AA is going to loose money on this for sure, but it was already bleeding money on this route while having the most capacity to fill and the worst product. B6 had a huge premium over them. Now, they will probably loose a little more money but will be able to keep the ff and corporate clients happy.
      End Quote

      Is this a pun that American is loosening up their finances to provide this service?

      I think you mean lose money. :)

      I don’t see why AA could not use some of their International Planes (777’s) to provide this service to allow them to relocate them to other hubs like MIA, DFW, CLT, etc…

      How about LAX-MIA, especially then turning that plane into a South American or Transatlantic flight for the next turn. Eventually swinging it back west for Transpacific routing later.

  2. The company has only 12 LAX-JFK flights filed once this new service adds to the schedule. It was at 13 prior to the change. And that’s even before the 6a moves to be a redeye. It certainly appears that the “minor adjustments” in schedule timing at LAXJFK includes dropping a frequency.

    • CF says:

      Seth – My understanding is that may be a maintenance-related temporary change and not due to the Boston flights.

  3. Dese says:

    Perception is at least as important as reality. A better product on a few flights lends cache to an airline, even if it’s only in the mind. Look at all the comments about Delta’s “superior product” a few days ago. Most of it was based on in-seat AVOD versus bringing one’s own device on board. I think safety may be a wee bit more important than in-flight entertainment, but I guess I’m old school that way.

    • Considering there hasn’t been a crash by a US carrier for years, we can infer that all the airlines are safe.

      • I was thinking that myself. People nowadays take airline safety for granted. I’m old enough to remember it wasn’t always that way. By the way, my full moniker got chopped off on my original comment.

  4. Kilroy says:

    I know the 321T has only ~100 seats, but that 40 minute turn in LA doesn’t leave much of a buffer if AA is using the same plane.

    Then again, of all the times I’d be okay with a flight arriving late, assuming I don’t have a connection, it would be for a flight scheduled to arrive before 7a, so if there are delays the impact may be minimal.

    • CF says:

      Kilroy – That could very well come off a JFK flight. Presumably the turn in Boston is the only one that can’t be subbed out since there aren’t other 321Ts there.

  5. Marty S says:

    What many of us would like to see is a United p.s. between IAD, LAX and SAN. Right now it’s mostly junk/old/outdated equipment.

  6. Zack Rules says:

    I always wondered by AA didn’t try reconfiguring some 737-800’s for more premium seats. With flat business seats, it could seat 148 (16/30/102) which is a nice middle between the A321T’s and regular 737-800’s in terms of seat density, and would require three FA’s instead of four.

  7. I still don’t get why you need a lie flat seat for a transcon unless it’s overnight. I guess I’m in the minority. I’ve done SFO – JFK in standard domestic F and it was nice.

    • Andy says:

      The distance and time is comparable to transatlantic flights to the UK.

      • Not really. LAX – BOS is 2,611 miles. LAX – LHR is 5,456 miles.

        • Alex Hill says:

          That’s a transatlantic flight from the west coast. The intended comparison was obviously east coast to Europe to east coast to west coast.

          • Oh. Probably should have clarified that. But, BOS – LHR is still longer. It’s 3,265 miles and is usually an overnight flight as opposed to LAX – BOS which is more a more common daytime flight. That’s still more than an hour longer.

  8. Darin says:

    Say what you want, but I have a choice of airlines and fly LAX-BOS-LAX in paid F. If it ain’t flat bed I’m not going. AA was never in the running. Now they are.

  9. With American’s strategy of squeezing as many people as possible into a fuselage you would think that they would have installed lie-flat bunkbeds!

  10. JGD says:

    So let me get this straight: by re-timing 1 JFK flight, AA is able to add 2 BOS rotations using the same # of aircraft? This is a HUGE utilization gain, and I believe a very profitable move.

    • henry LAX says:

      could also be a case of they have had certain amount of slack/buffer built into the fleet planning, and could now start using some (or all) of that buffer, which is a double edged sword –

      great when all things click, and much worse when trying to recover from some sort of nor’easter, cuz unlike any other flight in the entire network, these customers paid for the flat beds upfront, and would be damn pissed if they try to sub in anything flat-bed-less.

  11. Frank Power says:

    I didn’t realize UA is back up to 3X daily….they had brought the route all the way down to just once a day recently.

    I feel that people get caught up in the international business product and don’t pay attention to how much premium business traffic between the two cities–there is a lot. Granted its not the $4,000+ Paid-F that actually exists on JFK-LAX. That said there is demand for higher fare BOS based financial travelers who get to book first as its over 5 hours (I know this is the Bloomberg and Bain policy and pretty sure its the policy at the mutual fund and investment banking firms). Then there is a lot of defense contractor traffic (not the chumps who get hired to be pseudo-soldiers, but the people who make the bombs and/or sell the $2million toilet seats) plus tech traffic. Never mind the travelers who are willing to pay a “bump-up” upgrade for what is one of the longest domestic flights in the country

    So while BOS doesn’t have movie stars it does have a lot of people who are willing to pay a lot of money for plane tickets. And they fly to other places too. Clearly AA determined that it was losing traffic to others. I do agree that its probably LAX point of sale given that they seem to have given up on BOS (DL is clearly trying for both while B6 is focused on Boston). NOTE: DL gave up on SFO and now just runs a regular 757.

    As someone who flies BOS-LAX/SFO a lot (maybe not the 18-20 times a year I did for four years back in ’08-12…I still do it 7-8 times a year), its not easy to get an upgrade. For UA, DL and B6, it means only 16 seats and you still have 160ish Y seats to sell. Its not that much risk for the potential reward of getting more business traffic as long as you can fill coach. It will be interesting to see if AA gets traction with the 321T…its clearly a better product but it does seem like too much.

    • henry LAX says:

      looks like everyone is taking a breather on SFO-BOS trans con turf war. Both B6 and DL showing 1x daily, AS has 2x from the VX days but with standard product, and UA dropped down from 7x to 6x for wide swaths of its schedule.