American has gotten into a new routine of lumping summer schedule changes into one big release to try to garner buzz. This year, it tried to add mystery to the process with this… interesting… tweet.
That is Vasu Raja, American’s Vice President of Planning, and I spoke with him right before the 2020 Transatlantic package was rolled out to get some more color. Overall, the moves highlight how American views its hubs, particularly Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, and Philadelphia.
Chicago is a Transatlantic Hub, Not a Transpacific One
When American canceled its China flights from Chicago, leaving only a thrice weekly Tokyo flight as its sole Transpacific presence, people wrongly suggested that American was giving up on Chicago. The thing is, American just can’t get Asia to work from there. Those China flights were horrendously unprofitable, and the Tokyo flight probably only remains thanks to the joint venture with Japan Airlines. But while American has given up on Asia, it has not given up on Chicago at all.
Going over the other ocean from Chicago has done quite well for the airline with a very hefty schedule slated for next summer. American is adding all of these with 787-8 aircraft.
- Chicago to Budapest 4x weekly from May 7 to October 24
- Chicago to Krakow 5x weekly from May 7 to October 24
- Chicago to Prague 5x weekly from May 8 to October 24
This really reflects two different things going on. The Budapest and Prague routes are going to be pure leisure. It’s for Americans going over to those hot spots in the summer. American experimented with those last year from Philly, and it worked. Those will remain, so Chicago is just new service.
Isn’t overflying the Philly hub bad? Not in this case. American has found that pairing Chicago and Philly to a destination actually strengthens the route. Consider Prague.
The Philly flight leaves at 6:50pm and gets to Prague at 9:15am. The return is at 11:20am getting back at 3:05pm. Chicago will leave at 6:50pm and get to Prague at 10:50am with a return at 1:05pm back at 4:05pm. This gives travelers around the US more options to work with. If you live in the Midwest, you can leave later and go via Chicago. Or if you’re returning, you can stay in Prague later before coming back home. It also opens up more single-stop opportunities.
Further, Chicago is only 5 days a week, but having Philly operate daily means travelers can mix and match and still get home easily every day of the week. This is what American has seen with other routes, so the pattern continues.
Second, we have Krakow. This is all about visiting friends and relatives. There is a huge ethnic Polish population Chicago. It’s big enough that LOT Polish already flies this route less than daily. American figures it can get a chunk of this traffic for itself.
This isn’t the only growth. American is lengthening the summer season for existing routes as well. Eventually some of those could go year-round. Chicago may not work for the airline over the Pacific, but over the Atlantic, it’s growing and working well.
Philly is for Transatlantic Experiments, But They Don’t All Work
Philadelphia remains a great testing ground for experimental routes. Last year Dubrovnik was a huge success story, and it will go daily next year. Berlin also gets bumped up to daily service. Bologna, on the other hand, was bad. That one isn’t coming back. Of course, if you don’t try a new route like this, you can’t really know if it’ll work regardless of how sophisticated the models are. Philly’s close proximity to a huge population as well as to Europe makes it an easy place to try new things.
Next summer, the big news is that American will start Africa flying with thrice weekly flights to Casablanca from Philly. The flight will operate from June 4 through September 8, so it’s a very short season. Oh, and it’s on a 757. Yep, Casablanca is that close — even closer than Paris.
This route has been rumored for some time, and it’s a great experiment. Royal Air Maroc will be joining oneworld, and while it doesn’t have much in the way of connecting banks into Africa yet, it will. And with a 757, American can pioneer the route with a good chance of finding local traffic going to that hot spot as well as testing the waters with connecting opportunities. This route is a pathfinder, and it’s a low risk one at that.
Similarly, American will move its Keflavik (Iceland) flight from DFW up to Philly. Consider that another experiment.
Almost Anything Works from Dallas/Fort Worth
As American marched toward 900 daily flights at DFW this summer, the mantra was that pretty much anything can work there. They throw in some routes that seem thin, and then they magically do well anyway. It’s the hub that keeps on giving.
There is a limit to this, however, as we’ve seen with American’s decision to move the DFW-Keflavik flight up to Philly. Granted, there were three airlines (American + WOW + Icelandair) in the past and all of them will be gone. DFW might have worked better this year. But what American realized is that much of the demand was in the east, and DFW was a lousy stopping point for that. This year, it expects to do better from Philly gathering all that traffic.
While that route goes away, DFW will be getting an important new flight to Tel Aviv. This marks the airline’s return to Tel Aviv after pulling out from Philly around the time of the US Airways merger. Whatever TWA debts were out there (as the rumor goes) have been settled, and service is ready to start 3 times a week on a 787-9 from next September 9. It’ll be a year-round route.
This seems like a stretch, but for the same reason American moved its Keflavik flight to Philly, it’s starting Tel Aviv from DFW. See, DFW is very well positioned for connecting traffic flows on this route. If you’re thinking about all the possibilities for connections from the western US, that is certainly a part of it since West Coast – Israel flights are few and far between. But don’t forget Latin America. This will be a really easy way for Latin Americans to get to Tel Aviv in a world where not many great options exist.
On top of that, there is a lot of local traffic in the market. I’m told this is the largest route that American hadn’t flown from DFW. If you’re thinking about Jewish traffic, that’s some of it. But it’s really more about Christian travelers. The Metroplex has a whole lot of Christians looking to go to the holy land.
Overall, this paints a picture of a planning team that is following its successes up with new routes that fit the right pattern. But there is also an element of risk in some of these routes that may or may not pay off. That sounds like the kind of place you want to be as an airline. Take a chance and see what works, then keep duplicating as much as you can based upon what rises to the top.