Escalating the Battle for LA, a Chicago Twist, and One Airline Goes Big

Schedule Changes

After the torrid pace of change last week, things slowed down a bit in Airlineville this week. But that doesn’t mean that the data coming out of Cirium was any less interesting. In fact, there were a lot of thoughtful, long-term moves this week that should get people talking.

The Widget was busiest with a long term play for LA. At the same time, it delayed (or destroyed?) the dreams of focus cities everywhere. The Eagle decided to go big, and by that, I mean it ditched its smallest jets for good. And the Heart? Well, there were some notable changes in Chicago that left others scratching their head.

Pualani and the Taxi both finalized their spring break plans. One is optimistic; the other not so much. North of the border, it was pure gloom as the reality of government limitations set in.

All this and more this week. Like sands through the hourglass, so are the skeds of air lines.

Alaska Sets Its Namesake’s Summer Plans

Alaska made a big schedule change in the State of Alaska this summer. During the peak, seats departing from any airport in Alaska are up over 4 percent vs the previous plan. Several routes get more frequencies while others see cuts. Aircraft gauge changes are all over with the Embraer 175 going on to Anchorage – Dillingham, Fairbanks, and King Salmon for the summer.

Down in the rest of the US, Alaska decided to fly LA – Cancun through the summer. Possibly more interesting, Alaska has delayed its return to the Oakland – Hawai’i market from April 4 until May 20. Southwest has been flying that through the pandemic. The brand new JFK – San Diego route received the same treatment.

American Retires the ERJ-140

American has pulled all 44-seat Embraer 140 flying from the schedule starting May 6. It appears that airplane will be retired. For now, all flights have just been moved to the 50-seat Embraer 145, but with many flights in New York, we know that will change. American said it would upgrade everything in New York to bigger airplanes.

Charlotte also some some growth this week with new routes to Marsh Harbour and Reno. Meanwhile, Cabo and Traverse City go from weekly to daily this summer.

Oddly, the China flights that American added via Incheon last week are gone once again. China is not in the schedule until May 6 now.

Delta Grows LA, Cuts Focus Cities

It was an active week for Delta in general, but what really caught my eye was growth in Los Angeles. Sure Atlanta – Burbank (and Colorado Springs, for that matter) are gone, but LAX will get new nonstop service to Houston/Intercontinental along with the return of Oakland. Mexico City, Nashville, Orlando, Raleigh/Durham, and Tampa all get one extra daily flight. The only loser from LA? Columbus service is ending for good. Delta is making its move here.

Meanwhile, the focus cities were hit relatively hard. Raleigh/Durham’s return as a focus city was delayed again. Some flights will come back on April 12, but now Hartford, Indianapolis, Nashville, and Philadelphia won’t return until September 1 at the earliest. The great Miami experiment continues to stall out. Delta has now ditched both Orlando and Tampa flights. Meanwhile, Cincinnati is losing both Houston/Intercontinental and Phoenix flights as the former hub continues to shrink.

Over to Europe, Delta did a whole host of gauge changes. Several 767 flights were moved either up to A330-300s or down to 757-200s. Back home, West Palm Beach loses Boston flights for good and JFK flights until at least next winter. Meanwhile, Minneapolis may lose Palm Springs this summer, but it’ll gain Myrtle Beach, Portland (ME), Providence, Savannah, and Traverse City.

Hawaiian Sets March

Hawaiian has made its moves for March, and it looks nearly the same as February. What’s different? Well, other than the already loaded new Orlando + Ontario service and Long Beach – Maui, the biggest change is probably that Vegas – Honolulu goes down from 2x daily to 10x weekly while LA goes up from 1x daily to 12x weekly. Also, Phoenix and Long Beach – Honolulu both go up from 5x weekly to 1x daily. There are a few minor interisland increases too.

Southwest Cuts O’Hare

In an odd turn of events, Southwest has cut 1x daily frequency from each of its O’Hare markets before the service even started. There are a lot of potential theories here, but it’s most definitely not normal to see Southwest do something like this. So… speculate away. Southwest also loaded its MAX schedules with flights beginning March 11. There will be 10 aircraft routings per day criss-crossing the country.

Spirit Cuts February

Spirit pulled up the rear for March by finalizing its cuts this weekend, and they aren’t very aggressive. After being down more than 30 percent year over year in February, Spirit is down only 19 percent in March. It’s all about Florida. We’ll see if that pays off.

United Cuts Point-to-Point Sooner

United did a lot of experimenting with point-to-point Florida flying this winter, and some if it won’t make it into April. Boston – Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Orlando, Tampa; LaGuardia – Fort Myers, Tampa, West Palm Beach; Pittsburgh – Fort Myers; and Milwaukee – Tampa will not operate past March. Originally they bled into the early part of April, but this is just clean-up from previous schedule changes.

On the flip side, other hub routes are now extended through the summer, including Denver – Panama City, Sarasota, and West Palm Beach along with Washington/Dulles – Santo Domingo. Denver also gets an extra daily trip to Charleston (SC) and Orlando.

Santa Maria flights to both Denver and San Francisco are now gone until the end of September. That doesn’t bode well for the future of that airport in the United system.

Other Randomness

  • ANA is canceling Narita to JFK an San Francisco along with Haneda to San Jose through September.
  • Avianca begins Ontario – San Salvador in July.
  • Contour had pulled its schedules from Crescent City.
  • Gol looks to be out of Orlando – Fortaleza and Manaus for good.
  • Kuwait Airways has canceled JFK flights at least through July.
  • Mokulele is connecting the dots and will fly Moloka’i to Lana’i.
  • Norwegian’s long-haul flying has finally been removed from schedules.
  • Sun Country will fly Minneapolis/St Paul – Tampa through the summer.
  • TAP Air Portugal is pulling out of JFK through September. It’ll still serve Newark.

Stay tuned for next week’s exciting episode of Skeds of air Lines.

For more detailed analysis of schedule changes, subscribe to Cranky Network Weekly. This weeks topics:

  • Delta Makes Its Move in Los Angeles
  • American Retires Its Smallest Airplane
  • Southwest Gives O’Hare an O’Haircut
  • The Remains of Canada’s International Flying
  • Southwest Schedules the MAX
  • Spirit’s March Winners and Losers

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25 comments on “Escalating the Battle for LA, a Chicago Twist, and One Airline Goes Big

  1. Delta’s build out at LAX is not surprising, given the massive infrastructure investment there and its rising market share and with additions like LAX-IAH it is clear that DL is growing LAX at the expense of AUS, RDU, and even BOS (and whatever was left of CVG). What is also becoming clear though is that DL’s investment in LAX will in the end look a lot like what it did at JFK. Billions spent, with a long runway to achieving profit. Now, made even more challenging by COVID19 as business travel will likely not recover for at least another year if not more. DL’s long haul route map reflects the challenges of trying to dominate LAX. No one does in the end. It’s a huge O&D market, but it doesn’t work well for connections and yields, notably to Asia and even to Europe are diluted by so much competition.

  2. It would seem to me that most of the airlines are making moves that made the most sense. DL building up LAX was always the most logical move they were going to make since NYC is slot constrained and they just got more gates.

    AA building back DFW/CLT and reducing NYC was always the most logical move, since they were already doing that pre-pandemic.

    AS building up LAX made the most sense given their AA partnership.

    WN strengthening its large focus cities into mini-hubs made the most sense.

    B6 prioritizing NYC over Boston made the most sense given AA partnership.

    UA also seems to be focusing more on its middle of the country hubs over the other hubs. That made sense since they were doing that already.

    It will be interesting to see how airlines are adjusting to populating movement. There is a tremendous population movement going on from northeast and midwest into southeast region. Places like ATL/CLT/RDU/CHS/JAX/MCO are all winners in this net migration movement. Similar West Coast to Texas, Arizona and Nevada population movement has also picked up.

    It would seem to me that UA faces the biggest challenge in this population migration and AA would be the biggest winner here. Although, AA is in the worst shape financially. DL with ATL will also benefit from this. Coastal airlines AS and B6 would seem to be hurt from this unless they can adjust to the new reality of where the money is going to.

    1. A lot of this so called migration is going to reverse itself in about a decade do to numerous factors. 1. Covid fears will subside as many moved do to fears of catching the virus. 2. board with where they went & will want to return. 3. The realization that the money thought being saved just ended up being cut from their paycheck & everything else was a wash. 4. Climate change… especially in places like Florida, Las Vegas & Texas.

      1. Not getting too far off the topic here, but how the heck muck do you think the climate is changing??

        It’s not like Texas is going to turn into the Sahara. Climate change is much more subtle…especially in lower latitudes. Places like Texas or Florida may warm a few degrees. It’s already hot here in Texas…but changing the average high in July from 99 to 102 isn’t going to make people run back to the snow.

        1. Climate is far more than weather & a few degrees one way or another, you need to also consider such issues as the water supply as a metro area stretches ever outward. Phoenix & Las Vegas are beginning to learn this the hardway even though you most likely are not reading this in any headlines since it’s not in the Houston Cronocal, Austin Statesman or the Dallas Morning News.

          1. Dallas gets more rain each year than Seattle does. It’s not going to runout of water.

            In a drought year there are outdoor watering restrictions but the supply replenishes quickly. This won’t change due to climate change.

            Water supply issues in the Southwest could certainly become worse, but not to the point that people don’t move there.

            Climate change matters, especially if one lives by the ocean which will be rising slowly. But the idea that Dallas will become a desert is silly. As long as no one relocates the Gulf of Mexico the place is going to get plenty of rainfall.

      2. Eh, the population shifts were happening long before COVID, and for a variety of reasons. I could speculate, but I’ll leave those explanations for the sociologists & demographers.

        As for things being “a wash” in terms of paychecks vs costs of living… It really depends on the specific areas and industries that one is comparing, but that isn’t true in my experiences. Moving from, say, NYC or San Fran metro areas to Dallas or Atlanta metro areas doesn’t usually result in a person earning 40-50% less pay, but the cost of living can easily change by that amount. There are large portions of the country, especially in the Midwest/South/Southwest, where a kid a few years out of college can afford to buy a 1500-2000 sqft home in a decent (maybe not superlative, but decent) school district at < 3x their annual pre-tax income, for example.

        I'm not trying to argue for/against certain states, and there are exceptions, but for most people in the middle 60-80% (in terms of average incomes) that aren't in extremely specialized/niche occupations, wages don't vary as much across regions as the cost of living does.

  3. Southwest reducing ORD like that is no surprise. They’ve announced a lot of ambitious new flying all over the country since the pandemic began – like 12 cities in general. Which in the long run is a good thing for them. That said, right now, the schedules they initially filed in all those markets are too ambitious. Most schedules have been pulled back from when they were announced to when they launched, or shortly thereafter. Miami already saw their flights to Tampa go away. Not surprised to see a very aggresive launch at ORD pull back. I’m keeping an eye on whether they will keep as much flying at Colorado Springs when it opens – that seemed really big. I’ll also be curious to see if they return to Steamboat Springs/ Hayden and Montrose/ Telluride after this season – I know United and others have aggressively defended those cities.

    1. Jason – But Miami-Tampa wasn’t pulled until after service started. They nearly always give a route a little chance to develop. And then when Tampa was pulled, it was replaced with Atlanta and Dallas (after Nashville was already added).

      1. Southwest has run all its South Florida cities across TPA. FLL has stuck. PBI was removed. Now MIA is removed. Not a big deal. The real SWA story in MIA is how Southwest got gates in Delta’s Concourse and what may happen in that Terminal H in the future.

      2. As I said, “Most schedules have been pulled back from when they were announced to when they launched, or shortly thereafter”. Miami-Tampa is covered by “..or shortly thereafter” clause.
        I dont think this is anything to really get concerned over. Chicago is one of the hardest hit cities by covid, everybody has pulled back there, so I’m not surprised to see them pulling back from what seemed like a perfect no-covid schedule during a period of very decreased demand. They’ve done it throughout their network – announce something big, then quietly pull things back either as the first day comes or shortly thereafter. They had announced several Atlanta routes (SDF, OKC? OMA) at 3 flights a day and put them out to sale.. only to reduce them to 1 or 2 daily flights at most. Same in other markets. There’s still just not enough demand out there. Nothing more. JetBlue has done this in countless places- RDU and LAX very notably, PHL as well. There’s just not as much demand as airlines are hoping there will be.
        Not surprised that they’re trying ATL/DAL-MIA. There’s demand for Florida routes right now – one of the few bright spots (relatively). Not so much Chicago to Nashville. They’ll still have a healthy 5x ORD-DEN. That’s good, especially now. I’ll be interested to see if they keep their ambitious schedules in some of the other new cities such as Colorado Springs at the pretty elevated levels they’re currently selling as.

  4. I’d love to see an analysis on the future battle for LAX if you ever feel up for it, Cranky.
    The latest delta moves just seem like yet another carrier coming in wanting to win then backing off when profits end up hurt long term.
    But… lax should be a fascinating place with AA/AS (I guess B6 transcon too?) alliance, the new delta moves, and United’s long term strength in lax and California. (To say nothing of Southwest). The respective JV and alliance partners seem like they’d matter here given the weaker delta international partnerships relative to AA and United that matter in LAX (Australia and Japan come to mind)

    1. TBIT – That has generally been the story of LAX forever! Airlines build up, think they’ll “win,” and then back off. It’s such a crazy market.

    2. I’ll second that request. I suspect DL will lose a boatload here (i.e. purchased market share) given 1) the sheer amount of competition, 2) their lack of nearby supporting hubs (just SLC vs. PHX+DFW for AA and SFO+DEN+IAH for UA), 3) weak intl alliance partners, 4) UA adding JFK, 5) JB’s new Mint, and – the most important – 6) the AA-AS alliance, which clearly offers the best reach for any LA-based frequent flier. The problem is they’ve already committed too much to the terminal redevelopment to back off now. I wonder if they could cut their losses by rightsizing and “selling” a chunk of their gates to Southwest and/or JetBlue?

      1. That would be unlikely. Remember, they took years to build up their NYC operation and it was doing quite well prior to the pandemic. So they see that as the shining light in their various hub building attempts. LAX is the holy grail of US airlines. Every airline has their key project and LAX is rightfully DL’s main project.

        If I were DL, I’d look to solidify my position in NYC/LAX and build up SLC to compete with DEN and not worry so much about SEA/BOS. But they look to be firmly committed to SEA. I’m not sure why. They can’t compete against AS there long term.

        1. I think you perfectly describe Delta’s mentality: we did it in NYC, why not LAX? And there are three big answers to that 1) NYC has DTW and ATL as very convenient, very frequent, quite close backup connecting hubs when DL doesn’t have an NYC nonstop (or one at the right time), and frequent fliers recognize that. They don’t see that at LAX (SLC is not the same). And 2) slot controls at LGA and JFK keep out the competition to the extent they’ll see it at LAX. And finally, 3) their biggest competitor in NYC – UA at EWR – is geographically isolated on the west side. Not true at LAX.

          Complete agreement they can’t compete with AS+AA in SEA long-term – another money pit they’re facing. And their other hubs used to throw off enough profit to support those battle, but not now.

          I honestly don’t know what my strategy would be if I were Delta right now. So many attacks on so many fronts. Defend Florida would be a big one (more focus cities there? TPA? MCO? FLL? JAX?). Another might be to switch the BOS strategy (AA+JB too strong there) to BWI. They’ve shown they can invade LCC hubs as the intl network biz carrier, so they could differentiate from SWA there and appeal to Maryland and DC fliers.

          1. If I were Delta, I would be looking for another JV partner since Alitalia’s bought the farm. Turkish would be ideal, they fly into several of Delta’s hubs (including Detroit, which is their major Midwest Asian hub). Turkish would probably end up flying into Boston and Seattle as well in this scenario (SLC Is just too small).

            Had there been no pandemic, DAL would probably have been waxing AA and Alaska at Seattle and Miami right now.

            I like the idea of going into BWI. Delta has no hub or power presence in DC beyond connections through ATL. It’s not the best airport out there but it would at least make them competitive in the DMV vs. United (hubbed at Dulles) and AA (at Reagan).
            If you’re going to invade one of the Florida LCC hubs it would likely be FLL, given that it’s right next door to Miami. I would LOVE it personally if they gave Tampa hub status (less connections, yay!), but they are not going to do that just 400 miles south of Atlanta.

            Of course, this assumes a number of important things-one of those things being that American will survive this. Parker has surprised me with his decent handling of the coronavirus (other than not doing any social distancing), but he still has an airline in a ton of financial need and he’s banking that his partnerships with Alaska are going to pay off with increased traffic. AAL has a lot going right for it (especially coronavirus essentially shutting down the MIA and SEA Delta attacks), but they have to execute. And we’ll see if it does.

            Other strategy thoughts…DAL could probably go after Austin to get it’s own hub in Texas, or they could reorient the Miami strategy to try and hammer AA or UAL at one of their weaker hubs.

        2. FC – I would agree with that, and I would even add that a Delta willingness to back off Seattle might encourage American to further move resources up there and away from LA. There’s no way to know for sure, but you have to think Delta has weighed that possibility.

      2. Tory – Oh man, you’re gonna get me writing an entire post here in the comments. Good thing I put a cap on the character count. ;)

        I think Delta has long been making the bet that world is going to snap back to normal after COVID. If that’s the case, then these efforts probably can be justified. I don’t share that worldview, but I can see how it works.
        They see other airlines backing off, so they want to invest in trying to win back some of that traffic. It’s a bet that I wouldn’t make, especially since LAWA really hates dominant airlines. But it’s a strategy I can understand.

        I should point out, however, that they really do not have weak international alliance partners. If you’re talking about the Pacific, Korean is an absolute beast of a partner to have. That can get you anywhere in Asia, including deep into China. And while Virgin Australia isn’t flying overwater, it can still take connections off Delta through Australia from Sydney. Throw in China Eastern for cheap flights, and you have a pretty good amount of coverage. In Latin, you already have Aeromexico and LATAM will come online. Neither are enormous in LA, but they provide the connectivity that Delta will likely need. And over to Europe, AF/KL do just fine covering that part of the world.

        I don’t think Delta even has a thought about trying to right size its terminal. Worst case, it could shrink and then move its international partners into the new terminal. I expect we might see American doing that kind of thing.

        1. Yes, the new character limit is definitely a good thing! ;) Fair enough Cranky – I stand corrected on international partners. My thoughts were more towards how they keep de-emphasizing SkyTeam and deeply devaluing their points for intl partner awards.

          1. Tory – Oh sure, from that perspective yes. But the JV partners are strong in LA, and those are the most important. As for mileage redemption, yeah, if anyone is still collecting SkyMiles for fun, that’s a really bad idea.

  5. According to American’s fleet fact sheet, the airline only had 7 E-140s at the end of 2020, so the retirement of those aircraft isn’t a big deal. I have also seen where American is picking up 18 E-175s and 25 additional CRJ-700s from Skywest. I also have read that the airline is picking up 16 Republic E-170s formerly flown by Delta which will be reconfigured to 65 seats. Of course, it’s also losing CRJ-900 aircraft formerly flown by Mesa. One thing I agreed with Tim Dunn about is the wisdom of Delta’s relatively small regional operation. I could be wrong, but I think you’ll see American continue to take advantage of its scope clause to upguage its regional side without making additional purchases. I also think you’ll see the airline rely more and more on Republic and Skywest for any near-term regional aircraft acquisitions (if it makes any at all), as those don’t affect its balance sheet. I see many predictions about L.A.’s future market share among its various airlines. No one knows what it will look like a year from now. I certainly don’t. Trying to predict what the airline industry will look like a year from now is like predicting the outcome of the Super Bowl. Having observed that airline predictions are usually futile, I hope my main 2021 forecast comes to pass – that all carriers will be cash flow positive sometime this year.

  6. AA has been the only one running 140s for awhile, right? Everyone else had already moved to 50 seaters at minimum as I recall, but maybe I’m missing something on UA’s side.

    Re: DL in AUS, they aren’t *bad* here, but they never got beyond the point of flying to hubs and actual focus cities…there was zero P2P flying even prior to the pandemic, though what was here generally had a decent ojnt of frequency (with the exception of CVG and RDU). But there’s just a lot of competition here, and AA has definitely asserted itself in the last year. That’s hard to fight against when you’re intent on keeping a revenue premium.

    I do agree that net migration has some winners/losers airline-wise. Not terribly worried about UA though; the Denver area is going gangbusters and UA has a decnlent amount of room to grow there thanks to concourse expansions. Only problem for them is that they have to split the market with Southwest, but that isn’t unique to DEN.

    Definitely don’t expect the migration trend to reverse though any time soon. The citation re: cost of living belies the fact that, even after wage adjustments, there are a *lot* of desirably places to live that are cheaper than the NE/West Coast. Not just talking FL/TX. But I digress.

    1. Where UA *might* benefit from the migration trend is remote employees flying back to their hubs for in-person check-ins with their employers on a semi-regular basis.

    2. Ian L – Yep. I think the only other place was down in South Africa. But domestically, they’re gone after this.

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