As of this weekend, American will serve 299 destinations in May down from the 338 planned previously. But that decrease is really just on the international front. Domestically, thanks to the rules set forth by the US government for airlines that want to take stimulus money, American won’t drop any destination in the US. That, however, doesn’t mean it can’t slash schedules significantly.
The last schedule, which was already reduced in the international arena, has now been cut by another two-thirds. The entire airline will now operate about 2,230 flights per day on average. That may sound like a lot, but it’s nothing compared to what it used to fly.
The cut is so substantial that American couldn’t just trim around the edges. It had to effectively step back and create a new schedule that would meet the government rules (fly to each city at least 5 times a week) while also maintaining connectivity. The end results is a much smaller airline, but it’s one that still functions.
Of the 299 cities to be served in May, 87 were scheduled to be served from only one American hub. Here’s a Great Circle Mapper map showing those routes:
After this weekend’s change, that number climbs up to 146. Here are all the new routes that are now only served from one hub.
What can we make of this? Well, Honolulu is just keeping LAX as a lifeline. You can see that the two big centers of growth here were DFW which maintained service to a variety of cities that lost service from other hubs. Then there’s Miami which is the only link to much of the Caribbean. But this is only a small piece of the story. Here’s a bigger picture look:
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Four Hubs Disappear
The easiest piece to segregate here involves the four hubs that are effectively disappearing in May. Three of these are unsurprising.
- Los Angeles will have 31 daily flights, most to the others hubs but also single daily flights to Honolulu, Los Cabos, Mexico City, and Puerto Vallarta.
- New York/JFK will have only 11 daily flights to Bermuda, Charlotte, Los Angeles, Miami, and Phoenix.
- New York/LaGuardia will have 25 daily flights to Boston, Charlotte, Chicago/O’Hare, Dallas/Fort Worth, Miami, Philadelphia, and Washington/National.
Those were the smallest and worst-performing hubs for American, so it’s no surprise to see them effectively become spokes. But what may be more surprising is that Washington/National has effectively become a spoke as well with only 31 flights a day. Other than to the other hubs, National will have flights only to Boston, Raleigh/Durham, and Tampa.
This may seem strange, but think about it another way. National, like the other three airports, is more about local traffic than connecting. And there isn’t a lot of local traffic anywhere. The best American can hope to do is aggregate traffic into a big connecting hub and hope to fill up a few flights. These four airports won’t really allow that to happen, so they get pulled down and American can focus elsewhere.
Dallas/Fort Worth and Charlotte Are the Main Hubs
DFW and Charlotte will both shrink dramatically, but they will remain big-ish hubs 7 days a week.
These are American’s bread-and-butter, and they are the most profitable hubs. Or at this point, the least unprofitable. They each have been running 9 banks per day, but DFW will drop to 5 with Charlotte down to 4. Remember, DFW was over 900 flights per day last summer. In May, it’ll be around 415. Charlotte is at around 315.
These two hubs will be the heart of American’s operation in the near term. Most cities will retain service into these hubs, so they will provide connections throughout the country. DFW will also have long-haul connections with daily service to London/Heathrow, Madrid, and Paris/CDG along with a thrice-weekly flight to Tokyo/Narita.
Miami is the Latin Gateway
The only hub that maintains a significant Caribbean and Latin presence is, naturally, Miami.
But even that isn’t enough to support a daily operation. For six days a week, Miami will see about 150 flights per day. But come Tuesdays, it drops to 31. Those flights all go to the other hubs, including 1 daily flight to London/Heathrow.
Note in the map above how little there is in the northwest of the country. The network has been culled.
Chicago, Philly, and Phoenix Become Part-Time Hubs
The last three American hubs do remain hubs, but they are only hubs five days a week.
Chicago/O’Hare will have 159 flights a day most days, but Tuesday and Saturday see only 25 daily flights. Those all go to the hubs except for Waterloo (Iowa) which is an essential air service market. I assume that agreement requires daily service.
Philadelphia will see 126 flights a day, but Tuesday and Saturday sit around 25. Again, that is mostly service to the hubs but also to Boston, Ft Lauderdale, Orlando, and Watertown (New York). The latter is an essential air service route, but the other three apparently have enough demand to require maintaining a single daily flight even on the down days.
Look at that map above and see just how little service there is west of Chicago, not even Denver or San Francisco have flights. The reality is that Philly is best for American as a Transatlantic hub, but there isn’t a single flight operating across the Atlantic that month. So, much of the feed has nowhere to go, especially the further west you go. Instead it’ll serve as a northeast to southeast hub for the most part.
Phoenix will be at a mere 85 daily departures, but again, come Tuesday and Saturday, it drops to 22. Those are entirely to the other hubs.
It should be noted that Phoenix lost the fewest destinations of the hubs that actually remain hubs in May. And the losses there are concentrated largely in the eastern third of the country where it was already fairly light as well as in Hawai’i.
What is this all about? Well, think about it this way. American has to keep flying to each destination five days a week to be able to keep its paws on the government money. That means that the 12 cities only served from Chicago, 8 cities only from Philly, and 8 cities only from Phoenix need to have flights five days a week to those hubs. At that point, does it make sense for American to operate flights that don’t connect into the network every day? No, it doesn’t. So, they build out skeleton hubs five days a week to meet the requirements.
Still Too Much
Yes, this is a big cut, but these airplanes are still going to go out with more empty seats than not. Having to keep serving every city certainly makes a difference here, but then again, so does the competitive situation. Does American really want to cut back too much and allow others to step in?
United seems ok with that. Over the weekend, it announced it would pull down Newark to only 15 flights a day for the near future. Of course, Newark is in the epicenter of the current outbreak, so this makes sense. And now, American has followed by slashing New York further for the rest of April (before the schedule we’ve been talking about here goes into effect). It sounds like a friendly signal that if other airlines are willing to cut back, American isn’t going to play games and try to steal share. The airlines shouldn’t have to resort to this.
We really need the government to step in. At the very least, let the airlines coordinate schedules and require codesharing/interlining so that consumers can get where they need to go by mixing and matching. I’d argue that’s not far enough, but it’s something. It would probably help convince American to pull down to a more sustainable point. Though it has gotten closer to reaching that level, even this dramatically-reduced schedule isn’t there yet.