This year was something of a lost year for American’s long-haul network. Thanks to the decision to retire multiple widebody fleets during the pandemic combined with the Boeing 787 delivery delays, American was hamstrung. But now it finally has the ability to grow, and last week the airline announced its plans for Transatlantic flying for next summer. Things will look a little different than in the past.
At the end of 2019, American had 150 widebodies in the fleet plus another 34 757s which could do some international flying. During the pandemic, American retired its entire 24-strong A330 fleet, all the 757s, and all 17 remaining 767-300ERs. By summer 2021, it was down to 113 widebodies. That wasn’t a problem then.
The problem arose when Boeing was unable to deliver 787s and COVID restraints ended. Demand was up, but American could do nothing with such a small fleet. It wasn’t until August of 2022 that deliveries resumed, and since then, 14 787s have come in the door. American wasn’t sure it would have the airplanes for this current summer, but for next year? It is ready to grow.
The thing is, those 787s aren’t cheap. The 767s and to some extent the A330s were a lot cheaper to own, so the airline could fly them when demand warranted and didn’t have to worry about high levels of utilization. With all those airplanes gone, American has to ensure that it can fly any new airplanes hard and make them earn a good return on their cost of capital. You can hear Brian Znotins, American’s SVP of Network Planning, talk about it here.
With that fleet background, American has gone and made pretty big changes to the make-up of its Transatlantic network since the pandemic. Let’s start with a look at a chart we put together for this week’s Cranky Network Weekly showing the seasonality of departures in 2024 vs 2019.
As of now, you can see summer 2024 is lower than 2019, but winter 2023/2024 is higher. And there is less day-of-week variation. American is working to gain more consistency so it can ensure better utilization of that pricey widebody fleet.
Here’s another way to look at it.
American Transatlantic Routes
Before the pandemic, American had a nearly 50/50 mix of seasonal vs year-round routes over the Atlantic. Now it’s closer to 60/40 with the number of seasonal routes having shrunk down while year-round routes have actually grown.
Keep in mind that this was even lower until last week’s new route announcement. American added 5 new seasonal routes (included in those numbers above) last week:
- Chicago/O’Hare – Venice (technically returning for the first time since summer 2019)
- Dallas/Fort Worth – Barcelona
- Philadelphia – Copenhagen, Naples, and Nice
These are leisure-heavy routes that will only fly in summer. American had pulled back its summer schedule so much during the pandemic that these adjustments just help it get back closer to an equilibrium.
It is, as a side note, good to see Philadelphia getting love again. These new routes are about adding network value by putting new destinations on the map and then routing people through Philly to get there. The distraction of the now-dead Northeast Alliance had American put more airplanes into places from New York that didn’t add that same kind of network value. But I digress.
The announcement was more than just these new routes. American also is moving up the seasonal start on several routes to create more flying opportunity in shoulder seasons. This would fit with United’s previous characterization that March through October is all good now, a far cry from the old days where there was a shorter and more pronounced summer season. For American, it’s again about improving that widebody utilization throughout the year.
Next year is really just the start of revving that engine again. This schedule can be flown by the fleet American has today, but 787-9 deliveries start up again next year, and there are another 30 coming in between then and 2027. Some of that may be used to replace older 777-200s, but I imagine American will flex as it sees fit.
Even if they are used for growth, where those airplanes go remains up in the air. There are issues like closed Russian airspace that will determine where the best opportunity lies. But you can expect more of a balanced type of schedule going forward that is less dependent upon seasonal flying so American can make sure it has the ability to fly those expensive airplanes all year long.