American’s To Bring Back International Flying Slowly, In Waves


I know I keep focusing on American lately, but that’s because the airline has been putting out more complete schedules than the rest and for a longer term. Yesterday I looked at May domestic schedules, but now I want to look further out on the horizon. Let’s take a look at American’s plans for long-haul international flying for the rest of the year.

In short, American is cutting to a skeleton schedule for May. In June it will bring back some flying, and then by the winter schedule it will be mostly back to where it wants to be. Of course, that winter schedule could be (and probably is) a lie. After all, who the heck knows what demand is going to look like by late October?

I went into Diio and looked at all Transpacific and Transatlantic flying as well as all flying into deep Latin America (southern Brazil/Argentina/Uruguay/Chile). Then I had to sync that up with what American said it was going to do since those did differ slightly. Here’s what I found.

Customs Facilities Will Not Be Busy in May

American clearly thinks that there will be no demand in May, and it’s right on that front. Here is the entire long-haul network for American in May, courtesy of the Great Circle Mapper.

Maps generated by the Great Circle Mapper – copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

It’s incredible, isn’t it? There will be a single flight across the Pacific on American in May. It doesn’t even operate daily. (It goes three times a week.) The Atlantic has a bit more, but all flights are from Dallas/Fort Worth and Miami. The Paris one surprised me, but clearly there’s some important connection with Paris that made it worth flying. And in Latin America, it’s the three big markets getting service… at least at this point.

All of these routes will operate at reduced service levels, between 3 and 7 days a week. Only Miami to London and Santiago were scheduled to operate about the same number of departures originally. We’ll see if further changes are necessary to comply with extended quarantines or other regulations.

Europe and Latin Spring Back to Life In June

American has set June 4 as its next ramp-up date. That’s when the delayed summer season will hopefully begin for Europe and Latin America, but it’s much smaller than the original plan. You can see those routes now in green.

Maps generated by the Great Circle Mapper – copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

It’s starting to get hard to see exact routes, so I’ll list them here.

  • Chicago/O’Hare – Athens, Dublin, London/Heathrow
  • Dallas/Fort Worth – Amsterdam, Frankfurt
  • Los Angeles – London/Heathrow
  • Miami – Rio de Janeiro/Galeao
  • New York/JFK – Buenos Aires/Ezeiza, London/Heathrow, Sao Paulo/Guarhulos
  • Philadelphia – London/Heathrow
  • Raleigh/Durham – London/Heathrow

As you can see, this is American mostly playing to its strengths. Of the 12 routes that will re-start, 5 of them will go to London, American’s hub-via-partner and gateway to much of Europe. Another 3 go to Latin America, where so far, demand has seen less of an impact.

The remaining 4 routes are secondary European markets. At least, they’re secondary for American. American has been operating some flights to Frankfurt that are cargo-only right now, so I imagine that’s why this comes back earlier. The other three look like more traditional leisure routes that aren’t considered hot spots for COVID-19. Since this is for summer travel, leisure should give the most opportunity for any recovery.

Asia Returns in July and Europe Fills Out

By July 7, American is willing to take even more risks. That includes the reintroduction of Asia flying. It’s also when DFW gets its first Latin America flight back. You can see these adds in blue.

Maps generated by the Great Circle Mapper – copyright © Karl L. Swartz.
  • Charlotte – London/Heathrow, Munich
  • Chicago/O’Hare – Barcelona
  • Dallas/Fort Worth – Dublin, Hong Kong, Sao Paulo/Guarhulos, Seoul/Incheon, Tokyo/Haneda
  • Los Angeles – Tokyo/Haneda
  • Miami – Madrid
  • New York/JFK – Madrid, Paris/CDG
  • Philadelphia – Madrid, Zurich

At this point, places like Latin and London are nearly back at full strength. But this is also the period where American assumes that coronavirus-ravaged areas will start to see demand again, starting with its partner hubs.

Of the 14 routes, 4 of them touch Spain with 2 in Tokyo. Charlotte also gets Transatlantic service back with London. The ones that stick out to me are the return of Charlotte – Munich and Philly – Zurich. Those seem odd.

An October Surprise

The official winter season doesn’t begin until October 25, but there are four routes that come back before then.

Maps generated by the Great Circle Mapper – copyright © Karl L. Swartz.
  • Los Angeles – Sydney (October 23)
  • Philadelphia – Amsterdam, Dublin (October 7)
  • Phoenix – London/Heathrow (October 7)

The Sydney flight comes back 2 days before the winter schedule, so clearly that’s just a look at expected demand by day of week. But the other three, I frankly don’t understand.

Dallas/Fort Worth to Amsterdam goes away in September, so that might explain why Philly comes back earlier. That being said, there’s still a few-week gap in between with no service. And Dublin has service from Chicago straight until the winter schedule, so this doesn’t fill a gap there. As for Phoenix, well, British Airways is still in there for now. These dates are odd.

The Winter Schedule

On October 25, the winter schedule goes into effect, and American is almost at full strength.

Maps generated by the Great Circle Mapper – copyright © Karl L. Swartz.
  • Boston – London/Heathrow
  • Charlotte – Frankfurt
  • Chicago/O’Hare – Paris/CDG
  • Dallas/Fort Worth – Beijing/Capital, Buenos Aires/Ezeiza, Santiago, Shanghai/Pudong
  • Los Angeles – Auckland, Beijing/Capital, Buenos Aires/Ezeiza, Hong Kong, Sao Paulo/Guarhulos, Shanghai/Pudong
  • Miami – Barcelona, Brasilia, Milan/Malpensa, Montevideo (starts Dec), Paris/CDG
  • New York/JFK – Barcelona, Milan/Malpensa, Rio de Janeiro/Galeao (starts Dec)
  • Philadelphia – Manchester, Paris/CDG, Rome/Fiumicino

Note that this is the first time that American will return to Italy. It knows just how hard hit that place is, and the summer season is dead for sure.

This probably feels like a more substantial operation, but it’s far from what American originally had planned.

The Fallen Soldiers of 2020

As part of these changes, American has decided to remove 29 routes from the schedule this year. Orange are summer seasonal, blue are winter seasonal, and green are year-round… or at least, they were scheduled to be.

Maps generated by the Great Circle Mapper – copyright © Karl L. Swartz.
  • Summer Seasonal
    • Charlotte – Barcelona, Dubling, Madrid, Paris/CDG, Rome/Fiumicino
    • Chicago/O’Hare – Budapest, Krakow, Prague, Rome/Fiumicino, Venice
    • Dallas/Fort Worth – Munich, Rome/Fiumicino
    • New York/JFK – Rome/Fiumicino
    • Philadelphia – Athens, Barcelona, Berlin, Budapest, Casablanca, Dubrovnik, Edinburgh, Keflavik (Iceland), Shannon, Venice
  • Winter Seasonal
    • Dallas/Fort Worth – Auckland
    • Los Angeles – Christchurch
  • Year-Round
    • Dallas/Fort Worth – Tel Aviv
    • Philadelphia – Lisbon, Prague
    • Seattle – Bangalore

Most of these fit the profile you would expect. All the summer flights to Italy have been killed, and for the cities where that was supposed to be seasonal, it just won’t come back until next year. Many of the markets meant to cater to a small group of leisure travelers (Budapest, Krakow, Dubrovnik, etc) won’t come back. They’re too much of a risk in times like these. Besides, American would rather route those people via London to try to fill those airplanes.

Lastly, and I don’t think I need to say this, Seattle to Bangalore will be delayed until next year as well, if it happens at all.

Closing Thoughts

This is the first time we’ve seen how an airline is thinking about international demand so far out, and my first thought was… it just feels like too much.

We certainly don’t know what the situation with COVID-19 will look like this summer. We don’t even know what it’ll look like a couple weeks from now. But it seems to me that even if things are better, demand will be hugely suppressed throughout the summer. Some of these routes just seem overly aggressive, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them cut back. It is good to see, however, that every single one of those 25 canceled summer routes will not happen. Take that capacity out and give other routes a better chance to succeed.

On the other hand, I think that the winter schedule is probably fiction at this point. My assumption is that all we really know about winter is the routes that WON’T be flying. Everything else that is still in the schedule is more of a placeholder than anything. There will likely be further cuts by then.

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38 comments on “American’s To Bring Back International Flying Slowly, In Waves

  1. Your map and comments don’t mention TLV which was supposed to launch later this year.

    You also did not specifically mention Narita but the most recent wave of new route additions to Haneda – and reductions at Narita – happened in the midst of this crisis and just a couple weeks ago. Most airlines are assuming a restart of all Tokyo services by the summer but the chances are even higher than before the crisis that NRT will not be sustainable given the very high level of additional flights at Haneda. Trying to operate dual NH and JL Tokyo hubs could drag down UA and AA’s Pacific performance.

    There is a lot of capacity coming back online in the late fall, the worst time to be adding new routes, esp. in a demand-depressed environment which will persist through the winter.

    And, of course, AA (and every other airline) still has to figure how to profitably deploy the people and the planes devoted to its international network by the fall; there simply will be no margin for operating unprofitable international flights for at least the next 12 months. There might be some of those 777s that are permanently parked or put in long-term storage since all of the big 3 still have significant numbers of new international aircraft on order.

  2. “Many of the markets meant to cater to a small group of leisure travelers (Budapest, Krakow, Dubrovnik, etc) won’t come back. They’re too much of a risk in times like these.”

    Early retirement of the 767s is a factor here as well, since AA would have to use higher-priced lift for these routes.

  3. I don’t know if these later in the year schedule is meaningful to look at right now. It’s far easier to schedule them out and then cancel when you get closer in. I would look at the current schedule as the flights they would do in the most optimal scenario. There are just so many factors that will determine the demand for second half of the year. One only has to look at China’s domestic travel to see how low yielding things still are a month after cases have gone down to close to 0. And international travel outside of Caribbeans will take a lot longer to recover.

    1. The times published on the website are based on Brett’s time zone which happens to be in the Pacific time zone. As this blog is International, there may be people posting from Europe, Asia, South America, or even on the East Coast of the US/Canada. 5:50 am is 8:50 am on the East Coast, and at that time I was already working for close to 2 hours.

  4. Published schedule says optimism, relevant quote from Vasu Raja in the WSJ says slow your roll:

    “Nobody’s traveling in the next 30 or 60 days,” said Vasu Raja, American Airlines Group Inc.’s senior vice president for network strategy. “But nobody is really making any plans to go travel in the next 90 to 150 days, either.”

    Booking curve to Athens depends on a lot of 60+ DFD bookings that aren’t there now. I like the confidence in putting this schedule out but I think it’ll take a few haircuts.

  5. We certainly don’t know what the situation with COVID-19 will look like this summer. We don’t even know what it’ll look like a couple weeks from now.

    Even if American takes the bailout will that be enough to sustain them for the long-term? I’m not sure as it is obvious that demand will be suppressed way beyond Covid 19’s impact. Just imagine a full flight & someone coughs, the anxiety of everyone on board will go sky high even if it was no big deal in the end.

    On the other hand, I think that the winter schedule is probably fiction at this point. My assumption is that all we really know about winter is the routes that WON’T be flying. Everything else that is still in the schedule is more of a placeholder than anything. There will likely be further cuts by then.

    Far more than you think. Who in their right mind would want to chance flying during the winter with a higher chance of sick passengers after dealing with a virus like this & we still don’t know if there will be another wave of Covid 19 on the horizon.

  6. BA will be back in PHX before AA restarts, PHX is not just a winter tourist destination any more. Now the 10th largest metro in the US and growing and a strong business community (we are picking them off from CA like taking candy from a baby). AA was going to be seasonal on that route with BA 7 days a week, but even before it launched last year AA when year round, yes it is that strong. I see AA investing more in PHX after this is over. Hopefully JAL/AA flight to Japan will come out of it. LAX will be Point to Point like JFK and PHX will start to become more like PHL (but will a way better airport and much friendlier staff). Don’t be surprised to see PHX high on AA’s list going forward.

  7. what about that weirdo 3x weekly DFW-TLV “religious demand” type of route ? is that ever coming back ?

  8. October is the first month that the airlines will have a free hand to layoff people. It’s also just before the election, and the administration is very focused on a return to normalcy to support re-election chances. For both these reasons it’s possible that American may see it as valuable to show a near-normal schedule for end of October for PR/political/HR reasons.

    Man proposes, the virus disposes. Resumption of normal economic activity depends on people having confidence that they won’t get sick, whether because they’ve already had the virus, or because the virus is corralled or (eventually, we hope) because they’ve had an effective vaccine. If that is true by October, then there’s the chance of normal economic activity. If it’s not true, then there’s no chance of normal economic activity.

    The problem is that the reward for a jurisdiction doing a great job today on protecting its citizens from the virus is the need, from then on, to be ultra vigilant about letting infection back in. If there are places around the world, or around the US, where the virus is still active, and other places where it is not, there’s going to be minimal travel between them until there’s a vaccine or effective therapy or some other way to protect the still-vulnerable from the virus. Otherwise we’re just going to undo all the good quarantine work of the past.

    There may be multiple waves of this thing, renewed quarantine requirements, etc. It would be great for the world to be back to normal by October, but I don’t think we can count on it, and indeed, it seems less likely than more.

  9. How much of this route planning is just to show good faith by the airline until October? I would expect a more realistic schedule to be out in October after they adjust their workforce to meet demand

  10. After a conversation with a friend, reading about American’s plans on Cranky’s site here, and after seeing this article:

    …one has to wonder if it would perhaps make some sense to close LGA to commercial services for the “duration”, treat it as an “essential” project, and accelerate as much as possible the rebuilding/construction project there. It could perhaps save a few months of construction time.

    JFK can certainly accommodate the LGA traffic at this point, and may in fact be able to do so for the time needed to ramp up LGA work to a very high speed pace. JFK might likely be able to handle all remaining LGA traffic perhaps even for the first few months of any “recovery”.

    In fact, with traffic as supressed as it is, one can almost ponder doing that AND closing T2 and T1 at JFK, splitting their traffic between T4 and T7 and/or T8, and going ahead as quickly as possible with the new T1 project. (Just thinking aloud at this point…)

    In any event – I completely get that this is likely not tenable and honestly I actually hope it isn’t possible, as I would like to see us all recover fully (both medically and financially) in just a few weeks or so. But if that is not possible, then I was just thinking out loud about how this crisis could become an opportunity.

    And to be clear: if the suppression of commercial aviation traffic is a long-term situation, I still think both LGA and JFK will be needed in the long term, along (clearly) with EWR. But – as someone mentioned yesterday, I believe – commercial service at airports like White Plains and Islip becomes less likely. The situation for such scenarios in Cranky’s home turf of SoCal becomes even more interesting: will there be commerical serivce at Long Beach in 10 years? Worth thinking about…

    1. Hi Eastern 727 Whisperjet,

      I was the one who mentioned White Plains yesterday. Islip is far enough away from Queens & has enough service to make it somewhat viable as apposed to Westchester being rather close to NYC.

      1. There are actually lots of states where construction work (homes, roads, commercial buildings) continues under an essential services exemption.

      2. Agreed. And agian – I would prefer it’s not even possible and thatby mid-May we are back to “normal”.

        But even once social distancing is “relaxed” (whatever that might even mean), then ramping up to complete the LGA project now, and diverting all traffic to JFK (including United’s few LGA flights) for some more time, might allow the project to be finished much (?) more quickly. Maybe.

        Again, just a thought exercise.

        If “normal” traffic levels don’t come back for quite a while, then maybe – maybe – it’s an opportunity?

    2. I’m not so pessimistic about the longer term survival of HPN (White Plains). There are numerous large corporate headquarters in Westchester Country, NY and Fairfield County, CT, and the airlines will need to cater to those corporate customers’ needs, at least on key routes. HPN is also right next to the money management / hedge fund capital of the US, outside of Wall Street, and those firms will need to travel once the situation normalizes. Finally, there are plenty of people in the surrounding area (southern CT, Westchester County, NY, and even parts of NY farther north up the Hudson) with incomes high enough to afford leisure travel, but not high enough to fly in private planes, for whom HPN is much more convenient than the alternatives. HPN is literally on the Greenwich border, surrounded by country clubs and nature preserves, and (at least when I lived in the area a few years back) cost more to park at than either JFK or LGA.

      The big thing to keep in mind with HPN is simply that the alternatives are a HUGE hassle, especially with the usual levels of traffic. If you’re a mid-level corporate drone in, say, Fairfield, CT, and you need to fly for a business trip, you don’t have a ton of convenient options outside of HPN. Flying out of JFK or LGA involves a lengthy car ride, especially with normal (or “close to normal”) traffic complicating matters; Fairfield to JFK is 55 miles and an hour WITHOUT traffic, much more with traffic. New Haven may not even be in consideration, as that airport had flights to only a couple of destinations before the COVID-19 crisis. BDL (Hartford/Springfield) is on the CT/MA border, 75 miles from Fairfield, CT, getting there entails its own set of traffic risks; better to go to JFK or LGA in many cases.

      Comparing “pre-COVID normal” to “post-COVID normal”, I expect that HPN will see some cuts in schedules and gauge, but that it will still have significant service on key corporate and leisure routes, and I wouldn’t be surprised if airlines were able to charge slight fare premiums on those routes.

      1. I live in the area, CT to be exact. Kilroy makes some good points regarding HPN, I would add that it’s more like LGB in it’s size & scope of service, while ISP is in Suffolk County & has far more coverage similar to that of SNA thanks to WN having 8-gates there.

        1. hmmmm am i understanding you correctly? you’re saying WN has good coverage out of ISP ? Someone correct me here, but i can only count ISP to 4 Florida destinations plus BWI.

          1. henry LAX – That is correct. Islip was pulled down significantly once Southwest went into LaGuardia (if not earlier). It used to serve Chicago, Vegas, Fort Myers, and Nashville. Further, it had a lot more flights in those markets it continues to serve today.

            1. Oh I know that ISP lost service when WN moved flights to LGA. Compared to HPN though, it is far more robust over all than HPN ever had. HPN is constricted in several ways… 1. aircraft weight, 2. 4-gate capacity. 3. operating hours & 4. noise as the airport borders estate properties in Harrison NY & Greenwich CT. Also residents in those areas have the financial means to file suit at the drop of a hat & they have done so in the past & will do so again.

  11. Can someone explain to me, how pilot currency requirements will affect any ramp up if this continues for beyond say three months?

    1. I don’t know the specific regulations or airline policies but if the ramp-up to restart operations will be slow then there should be plenty of opportunity to rotate in pilots returning to work or (more likely) schedule a few hours of simulator time.

  12. At this point, no one knows how deep the bottom will be, or when it will occur. All any airline can do is make an educated guess about what its service levels should be at a given point in the future, even if the market for its service at that point in time is unknowable due to the extraordinary circumstances we’re facing. While it’s understandable that many think there are too many flights being offered under these circumstances, there’s one small rub. It’s impossible to book a flight that isn’t available.

  13. How does anyone know who is going to fly next week, next month, in 6 months, a year from now, from where, to where?

    What will it take to be allowed on an airplane? Will we each have to go through, once greeted by our airline at the airport: (1) a test for Coronavirus, (2) a wait for test results, and (3) a check, as we now have with TSA, for prohibited property and amounts?

    Where will all of this be done? By whom? In what amount of time? At whose cost?

    I see lots of problems and few answers. AA, if you can figure this all out and plan your future schedules…Wow!

    1. On that basis that you laid out… unless it was necessary to fly to get somewhere, who would want to put themselves through that just to get on an airplane. And what happens if one doesn’t have Covid, but has a slightly elevated temp reading… will they be denied boarding on the guise of safety?

  14. As Australia has had less of an impact from the virus it will also mean keeping its borders closed for longer. I can’t see non essential travel being allowed before the end of the year. This would make the AA schedule to Sydney (and probably Auckland) extremely optimistic.

  15. Hi Cranky!

    Great post! However, since it’s going to be with us forever, you may want to correct the grammatical error in the title.

    By using an apostrophe in this manner, the word AMERICAN’S is the possessive form. You can make that work if you add the word PLAN afterwards — AMERICAN’S PLAN TO BRING BACK INTERNATIONAL FLYING SLOWLY, IN WAVES.

    Alternatively, you can simply change AMERICAN’S to AMERICAN and the problem is solved — AMERICAN TO BRING BACK INTERNATIONAL FLYING SLOWLY, IN WAVES.

    Best regards!

  16. United is ceasing all service to LAX outside of hubs, reducing to 13 flights a day for a few weeks. Can you write some sensationalist article about UA closing LAX, or do you reserve your biases for American?

    1. LAX is an interesting case. With both AA/UA likely to cut back there after this due to their financial situation, DL could be the big winner here. We will see. There are plenty of fat DL can trim without having to significantly cut back on LAX. Whereas for AA/UA, LAX is likely to be something they can’t afford sustain at the same level.

    2. LAX was a dog market for AA. The company publicly said it was losing money. I wouldn’t be surprised if UA and DL were also losing money. Too many cheap seats in an expensive market to maintain a base. However, I think AA was more exposed due to their quest to increase market share and number of Asian, specifically Chinese, routes where competition could price their product low due to low labor costs.

      1. Eric – Agreed. I’m sure it’s not a good market for anyone, but it’s a market they all like due to “strategic” value. There’s not much tea leaf-reading to be done with United’s move. They’re just giving LAX the same treatment as SFO and Newark, and there’s no way that Newark and SFO get pulled down in the long run. American was differerent in that it gutted New York and LA while keeping others stronger during the initial April schedule.

  17. When looking at summer (and beyond) schedules, I think there’s too much focus on the virus (including travelers’ fears) and too little on the issue of borders. A lot of countries are not going to be interested in having int’l visitors, or having their citizens travel abroad and bring home the virus. Like look at Austria. They’re about to be the first European country to “re-start” their economy after the virus. Part of their plan, at least currently, is to prohibit foreigners from coming to Austria or allowing Austrians to travel abroad (Austrians will be allowed to vacation IN Austria). The theory is that only 1% of its citizens have immunity from the virus and, if they open their doors, they will have a reinfection.

    I suspect things will change regarding this timetable, but I think xenophobia, for lack of a better term, may be more important than virus prevalence.

  18. Your presentation of what is expected at AA was interesting… do have any such ideas about UA? Thanks.

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