American Can Finally Grow to Europe Next Year, But It’s Growing Differently


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

Data via Cirium

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.

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43 comments on “American Can Finally Grow to Europe Next Year, But It’s Growing Differently

  1. Good to see AA grow TATL flying, but while the majority of the newly announced routes and resumptions (ORD-VCE) are logical and should work well, PHL-CPH and on a 787-9 makes absolutely no sense. This is a thin market, premium-heavy yes, given it is a destination favored by affluent travelers on both ends of the route, but one that seems like an odd-ball in the AA network. AA has no ability to fly customers beyond CPH. It likely has no investment in sales on the CPH end, making POS focused on the US side of the route. The 787-9, even in its current configuration, is far more premium heavy than the 787-8. This is a route that can and should wait for the 321XLRs to arrive and the plane could have been used to open up another route instead.

    1. Well, the same is true for Nice, Venice, Naples, and most other European cities that aren’t OneWorld or partner hubs. They are all going to be spokes with little connecting traffic beyond those destinations given that AA is a US-based carrier.

      Plus they do have 10+ months to invest in marketing and sales if they want before the route launches.

      1. Yes, but NCE, NAP, and VCE are MUCH larger O&D markets for summer tourism than CPH, larger catchment, and more traffic generally. Less risky, but thank you much for the marketing lesson.

        1. I suggest you hang out at a CPH for a day in the summer and count the number of Americans that come out the arrivals door. Besides the standard American tourists there is a significant amount of cruise traffic.

        2. (As Cranky said) there’s no real way to tell lesiure vs. business travelers from numbers, as well as specific countries of origin.

          But in 2018 CPH handled 30.3M passengers, NCE 13.8M, VCE 11.2M, and NAP 9.9M so Copenhagen is hardly a small market for air traffic.

    2. Sorry, but like the others, I don’t understand your point around how this negatively differs from the other markets you cite. AA has little to no sales presence in CPH, but that’s true on many other markets. The aircraft is premium-heavy, especially the new deliveries, and Scandinavia attracts a premium-leaning tourist. I cannot predict definitively the success or failure of this new route but signs are good in my opinion.

  2. American it seems to me lacks the breath of international coverage compared to Delta or united. When flying over the Atlantic LHR is the primary hub for feed. Delta has several hubs they can feed connections through & United does as well, but mostly Frankfort.

    1. Delta leverages CDG and AMS for connections. United is both Frankfurt and Munich.

      Delta and United have far more wide body lift than AA, including many planes that are nearing the end of their operational life cycles (767-300ERs mainly) that can be profitably deployed on long, thin, secondary and tertiary routes. AA does not have that luxury, having withdrawn the A330s (24 frames), 767-300ERs (17 frames) and 757s at the start of the pandemic, leaving it with 777s and 787s and problems stemming from 787 delivery delays.

      1. Delta has JUST CDG and AMS. UA’s routing PAX through FRA and MUC but also BRU, ZRH, GVA, etc. I fly TATL once a month (mostly on UA) but am continually amazed by the routing options. Again, it’s anecdotal and I have no data to back it up but it just “feels” like they have more options for continental Europe routings.

        1. CDG and AMS both have a large amount of connections. Only Istanbul and LHR have more traffic. Istanbul is too far east for useful connections to Europe for us Americans. v

  3. If you’ve been to Naples you are probably surprised they chose this city. It’s not nice. And the Amalfi coast cannot handle any more summer tourist. There are so many other cities that need summer seats, like Milan, Split, Prague, Geneva and Vienna.

    1. Prague is most definitely underserved from the US. Still surprised that there’s only a single, seasonal non-stop flight from the US, especially given the number of river cruises starting there and just the overall volume of tourists who visit. While NAP is kind of a dump, there’s a ton on the Amalfi coast beyond just Positano. I also wonder how many people use NAP as a jumping off point for Sicily, as Sicily’s tourism numbers are up 50% Y/Y.

        1. I’m there for work frequently and totally agree. As someone told me, “its just a ‘dark’ city.”

    2. Saying that the Amalfi coast is a bad choice because it’s full is like the Yogi Berra joke “Nobody goes there anymore–it’s too crowded.” From an airline’s perspective, it makes a great choice.

      But, yeah, Split and Prague would be great choices for summer seasonal routes.

    3. Naples is a unique, and popular destination. Not sure what your measurement is for nice vs. not nice? A middle American city perhaps? Clearly you’ve not been to Naples and know little about the country.

    4. Naples is actually a popular destination on its own (it is a gritty city for sure) and beyond access to the Amalfi Coast, it actually serves as a gateway to Puglia, an increasingly popular destination for those that want more than just the usual Rome-Florence-Venice circuit.

      To the other cities you mention, Split will not see a TATL route any time soon, at least by a US carrier. DBV hasn’t really worked for anyone but United, and that probably serves the market plenty. Milan has seen a further increase in service these last two years, including double-daily from JFK on DL, ORD-MXP (seasonal) on UA which began in 2022, and is also served by DL from ATL, AA from JFK, EK from JFK, plus AZ and NEOS from JFK as well. That likely is enough.

      Geneva got a boost this year from DL launching JFK-GVA, initially year-round then cut it to seasonal, which shows the limits of the route, which is an established (and profitable) one for LX and UA who fly it from JFK (LX), EWR (UA), and IAD (UA).

      Vienna is not enough of a tourist draw from US point of sale perspective, and so the OS service is all the market will see for the foreseeable future.

    5. Naples isn’t my version of an amazing city, but it could be much worse. I spent 2 or 3 days in Naples prior to starting an Amalfi Coast tour, and even limiting things to use the cities themselves (not including the surrounding tourist areas, which would tilt things even more in favor of Naples), I prefer Naples to Rome.

      That said, I have little desire to visit either Naples or Rome again, as there are lots more destinations in that general part of the world that I’d like to visit, such as Prague, Budapest, Bucharest, Istanbul, Ankara, and so on.

    6. Naples is a dump, but there is still a lot of tourist sites around there – Pompeii, Amalfi Coast, etc. UA’s made NAP work from EWR, even going double daily some days. Still, not sure if PHL can sustain a this flight, even with its connecting hub.

      1. I think most who have been know Naples is a bit of a hell hole. But it does make for the most convenient jumping off spot to see the many other parts of southern Italy that are worthwhile and are growing in popularity.

        I’m sad I never got the chance to experience the old Meridiana JFK-NAP flight before they disappeared.

        1. I took the Meridiana JFK-NAP flight years ago. It wasn’t great, mostly because Meridiana crammed an extra seat into each row of coach, as compared to most operators of the same plane, so the hip room was TIGHT and made for an uncomfortable flight. Wish I’d realized that before I had booked the flight.

          That said, it was a direct flight from the US to NAP, flew mostly on time, and saved me $300 or $400 for the roundtrip (+ a connection in Europe) over the alternatives. If I’d known about the hip room issue, would I have chosen another option? Maybe not, but I certainly would have flown much more prepared.

  4. American has parked A330s and Delta has parked 777-200s. This is crazy, but might they be in the market for each other’s small fleets, since 777s fit better into AA’s fleet and A330s fit better into DL’s? I assume the cost to reconfigure and sort out the maintenance history etc on older planes like that would exceed the benefit of folding them into a large existing fleet.

    1. Alex – American definitely isn’t going to get Delta’s 777s. Delta had 10 LRs which would be a different subfleet for American. AA doesn’t need the range and would not benefit from a small subfleet. There were 8 ERs which in theory could have fit in the AA fleet better, but best I can tell only 2 are left in storage. They’re all pretty old anyway.

      The American A330s… I’m actually surprised Delta hasn’t picked them up.
      The -300s are old, over 20 years, and probably not worth bothering. But the -200s are much younger and there are are 15 of them. Thing is, Delta doesn’t really seem to love the -200. It only has 11 and would rather have bigger airplanes these days.

      1. CF – I could be mistaken, but I think AA’s A330-200s have different engines (Rolls Royce) than Delta’s. And your observation about Delta preferring larger aircraft models is spot on from what I’ve seen.

  5. Cranky an analysis of Central and South American flying in the “winter” might be granted, that is the market Znotis mentioned will get their utilization running high. it is not as profitable as it is “friend and family” mostly, vs turists…. but checking how they are going to up-gauge from 737s and A320s to 787s from MIA, DFW and PHL to this region will be interesting.

    1. Juan – They are doing almost nothing in Latin America this winter with widebodies. Of course they have the usual widebodies to deep South America in Argentina/Brazil/Chile/Uruguay. But outside of that, the only thing filed is a daily 787-9 from DFW to Cancun and then Miami – San Juan has a 777-200ER that flies only over the holidays (Dec 21 – Jan 7).

  6. I find it interesting how different airlines came up with different solutions when demand increased after the pandemic subsided. LH seems to have brought back old aircraft like the 747-400 or A346 or the A380 (not technically old) that were “retired” while AA chose to fly a much reduced network and keep the “retired” aircraft in the boneyard.

    1. @Cranky Awhile back it was reported that only JFK-LHR was AA’s consistently profitable overseas wibebody destination. Could it be AA is not aggressively expanding TATL is because it doesnt bring in the profits compared to focusing on narrow body domestic/Caribbean/Mexico flying?

      1. Brian – I don’t think that’s it. It shouldn’t be an either/or here. If American sees profitable opportunity over the ocean, it doesn’t have to cut back on domestic flying. These are different airplanes entirely.

    2. That’s exactly what LH has done.

      Given LH Group’s membership in the subsidiary-of-the-month club, their fleet plans for LH itself are a little murky. But they have a lot of 777-9s (not yet certificated) on order, and long delivery positions for A350-900s and -1000s so we’re likely to see these for a while.

      I flew FRA-ORD yesterday on one of the A340-300s (D-AIFC, for my fellow dorks). The interior was fresh and impeccable, which suggests that they expect to keep these operating for a while.

  7. In the scope of the life of aircraft and the post-covid era, American’s decision to forego a year or two’s worth of growth is immaterial in favor of properly rebuilding its network. AA is more profitable than it has been in decades and for the first time in a long time is exceeding profit levels at UA. I commend AA’s thoughtful and intentional rebuilding process.

    AA is in the best position of the big 3 to balance European seasonal flying w/ increased capacity to its massive S. American network in the U.S. winter. Seasonal flying added to a core partner network could be very profitable for AA.

    oneworld is simply not as strong in continental Europe as Skyteam and Star. DL and VS along w/ UA have developed the UK and esp. LHR pretty much as much as can be done other than relatively minor adjustments. Africa, the Middle East and S. Asia are opportunities that each of the big 3 will play with but those regions are not going to deliver the financial returns as Europe. The same is largely true for Tokyo and Seoul compared to the rest of Asia/Pacific.

    AA essentially made the decision to get rid of the 767s at the earliest opportunity, driven by their lack of keeping them updated and modern. The 333s were much less capable than DL’s while 332s have CASM comparable to the 763 but with higher trip costs. AA can incrementally grow its 787 fleet until it sees strong year round network opportunities. The amount of time widebodies spend on the ground in S. America justifies keeping a percentage of older widebodies like the 772 even if they are not always used there.

    AA will be just fine. The international shift from JFK to PHL has been expected. AA’s DFW hub, like ATL for DL, can make just about any route work.
    Financial performance and long-term network stability and incremental growth makes far more sense than jumping into “sexy for a season” markets.

      1. my recent comments including these about AA shouldn’t really come as a surprise. I have long advocated that airlines run good businesses first and then do all of the sexy stuff like placing massive airplane orders and putting as many dots and lines on route maps to support that – and not the other way around.
        The reason why I have been such a strong supporter of Delta is because they get what they exist to do first and have put everything in the proper priority.
        I am thrilled at the turn of events that is taking place at AA. They clearly have a long ways to go but they are being more rationally run than they have been in decades – and the balance of their results is beginning to be seen.

  8. Will PHL’s international growth eventually come at the expense of CLT. AA seems to be very invested in CLT but haven’t heard of any new Europe route announcements.

    1. CLT TATL is, with few exceptions, depends heavily on connections. CLT’s business community, while large, doesn’t provide sufficient O&D (beyond LHR and maybe MUC for the auto industry) and neither does the city’s population.

      PHL is a larger metro area, and there is more balance between connections and O&D. PHL pulls traffic from NJ, Delaware, and in some cases, even as far as the DMV.

      The only change to CLT’s TATL portfolio in the recent announcement of AA’s Europe expansion is that CLT-MAD is going year round.

      1. I live very close to BWI but to your point, I know people in Maryland who sometimes fly out of PHL if it is worthwhile to do so. The reciprocal is also true.

  9. I’m surprised that AA is the largest airline in the world and yet isn’t a strong player in either the US-Europe market or US-Asia market.

  10. AA has finally realized that it is too late to build up JFK and compete head to head with DL. They have no choice but to give some love to PHL (even though they would prefer JFK)! Their international strategy (is there one?) has been all over the place! I hope they have a solid plan and execute it without any distraction. PHL will get a boost when A321 XLRs come in. It cannot sustain much p2p traffic and hence has to rely on connections to fill up planes. Even then, PHL would compete with UA’s super hub in EWR and to some extend IAD and DL’s JFK. Those airports have much higher O&D traffic to justify additional flights. In PHL, AA has to replicate what it did in CLT, which is a tall order. Also, AA has hugely profitable operations at DFW, CLT and DCA. So, it has to be careful not to cannibalize that while reviving PHL. Good luck!

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