While most airlines continue to hack away at short-term schedules in this uncertain time, American has given us a glimpse of what things will look like next year. Yesterday, the airline put out its plan for long-haul flying through summer of 2021, and there are some big changes in store. Overall, American has decided to cut capacity by 25 percent versus this summer and lean heavily on its partners to build out its network. This means that there are some significant changes in store.
A New Episode of “As Seattle Turns”
It’s been a long time since I’ve written about the fight for Seattle, because Delta’s earlier onslaught had settled down as had Alaska’s torrid growth. Now, the battle looks to be reignited. On today’s episode of As Seattle Turns…
Last time, we saw the break between the Widget and the Eskimo grow uglier. Since then, the two have settled into a cold war of sorts. They still won’t speak to each other, but they had at least stopped screaming.
With things settled, it seemed like neither would back down, but then El Aguila arrived. El Aguila had turned a cold shoulder on the Eskimo before, but it came hat-in-hand hoping to reconcile. It promised expensive jewelry — 787s, to be exact — and to love it forever and ever. The Eskimo fell for El Aguila’s wily charms, and now, they have come together to exact revenge on the Widget.
Alright, enough of that. The point is that American sees all that feed that Alaska has in Seattle and thinks it can make a go of an international network. This isn’t something that would normally work, but this deal apparently isn’t structured normally. Now we get to see if it will prove successful.
American is going to put that previously-announced Seattle-Bangalore flight in next winter. London will start next summer. But there is now a new flight being added, and that’s Seattle to Shanghai. This is an important corporate route that is going to appeal to accounts of both American and Alaska. It is also bad news for Delta which had cornered the market from a US carrier standpoint.
But wait, where is American getting the rights to fly to Shanghai? Ah, that brings us to our next storyline.
American Abandons LAX as a Long-Haul Hub
I’ve been waiting for the day American walked away from long-haul in Los Angeles for a very long time. (Yes, I know that sounds strange for someone who lives just down the road.) American should never have tried to make LAX into its big Transpacific hub. It just doesn’t work with all the competition, and the airline has bled money on its long-haul routes. Now, American is pulling the plug.
The airline will walk away from Beijing, Hong Kong, and Shanghai flights. The Beijing authority will be put back in the pool for anyone to pick it up. But the Shanghai authority, well, that’s what American wants permission to transfer up to Seattle.
American is also canceling flying from LAX to Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires. That leaves the only long-haul routes going to partner hubs in London (British Airways hub), Tokyo (JAL hub), and Sydney (Qantas hub). It will also fly seasonally to Auckland, which is possible because of the Qantas partnership.
The eastern half of the US will now access Asia via DFW, the only hub in American’s network that works as an Asian hub. For those in the western US, well, it’ll be a mix. Those people can fly via Tokyo and connect on JAL or they can fly Alaska to Seattle and then connect on to American there. I still think there’s room for a 787 from Phoenix to Tokyo and maybe another city or two but ultimately, this is going to have to leverage Alaska as much as possible in the West.
Europe Focuses on Philly and London
There is a whole lot going on in Europe too, and the them is American consolidating service around two hubs, one on each side of the Atlantic.
In Europe, American is building London back up to where it was before the pandemic. Every flight is currently expected to come back including Phoenix and Raleigh/Durham. London will have particular importance as many secondary markets lose service on American. That includes Berlin, Budapest, Casablanca, Krakow, Prague, and Venice. Though American can always change its mind before next summer, those markets will be best served next year by pumping passengers through London and connecting them on to British Airways.
On the US side, Europe is all about Philly. Philly has been the primary gateway to Europe for the airline, but there has also been plenty of service from Charlotte, Chicago/O’Hare, Dallas/Fort Worth, and New York/JFK. JFK flying stays the same, but that’s nearly entirely about the local market whereas Philly is for connections.
Charlotte now gets stripped of non-core markets including Barcelona, Paris, and Rome. You might be surprised to see that Munich will still be served, but that’s all about corporate traffic. The increase in European flying that Charlotte has seen is being reversed. That’s very different from in Philly where all but the previously-mentioned secondary markets remain.
Chicago loses secondary summer-only cities, Miami loses Milan, and DFW loses Munich. But they will all keep some Transatlantic flying. Funneling traffic via Philly and/or London is the name of the game.
Latin America Stays Strong
Latin America has long been American’s strongest region globally, and that is going to continue. I mentioned the two cuts from LAX to Buenos Aires and Sao Paulo, but beyond that, there is remarkably little going away.
The only other route American will cut is Miami to Brasilia. That was a market that was flown by a 757, and those airplanes are now retired. I can see it being a market that comes back when American gets the A321XLR on property, but for now, it’s clearly the weakest of the remaining Brazilian service. Everything else is good enough to make the cut. After all, gotta be strong enough to fight Delta and LATAM, right?
All of these changes point to an airline that is focused on building up its primary hubs by region. It knows demand will be down. After all, long-haul capacity is being cut 25 percent year-over-year, and the priority is in making sure that connectivity is maintained through the airline’s main hubs.
The one exception is, of course, Los Angeles. LAX is being gutted internationally in favor of Alaska’s Seattle hub. It’s too early to know what the domestic schedule in LA will look like, but you can be sure that without international flying, many feed flights will become unnecessary. I would expect American to have fewer flights in LA and to reorient what remains to serving the local market. It’s about time.