Provo is American’s Future


American has decided to add a new dot to its route map. The winner is… Provo, Utah. This might sound like it’s coming from left field, but this is exactly the kind of market that American is trying to serve with its small-city strategy. And regardless of whether this is the right strategy to pursue or not, American is the right network airline to serve a market like this.

Provo might seem like an odd decision. After all, the city lies less than an hour south of Salt Lake City’s airport where there is ample service. Further, Provo is a college town — hello, BYU — which means it’s not exactly known for high-dollar revenue opportunities. But that’s missing the bigger picture.

First and most importantly, the gates between Salt Lake and Provo erected to keep the heathens out just really slow things down. Plus, when you get to SLC, it’s another 17-hour walk to get to the gate if your flight is on the B concourse.

The main issue, however, is that Salt Lake City is a big Delta hub, and so for another airline to make a dent, it needs to offer something unique. Flying to Provo is most definitely unique and gives people a reason to fly American if they live in that region.

The area south of the heathen gates is apparently known as Silicon Slopes. I first heard the term when Breeze CEO David Neeleman said that to me when he was talking about his airline’s expanding presence at the airport. It does appear to be a real thing with several tech companies setting up shop in the area.

With all of this coming together, you’d think airlines would have taken a swing at Provo in the past — and some have, sort of — but it’s only been ultra low-cost operators until now. The big issue had been the airport’s tiny and inadequate terminal. In July 2022, a brand new 4-gate terminal opened — expandable to 10 gates — which really opened up the opportunity to any interested airline.

Frontier had flown a daily flight in from Denver until Jan 2013, and then Allegiant took over and slowly increased flying to around 2x daily. In 2021 it ramped up to more than 3x daily but that was it only until the new terminal opened.

Once the terminal opened, service boomed. Allegiant decided to base airplanes there and grew to 5-6x daily flights going to about a dozen destinations. Most of those are 2x weekly, but Orange County flies 1x daily while Phoenix/Mesa is at 12x weekly. Both have strong Mormon connections.

Breeze moved in as well at that point. It now flies 2x weekly to both Phoenix and Dallas/Fort Worth along with 4-5x weekly to San Francisco and 2x daily to Orange County. As you can tell, Orange County is the place to be.

That has been the extent of the service so far, but now American will enter the market with 2x daily to Dallas/Fort Worth and 1x daily to Phoenix. These are markets that are served already, but that’s not the point. These are American’s hubs, so connectivity is the key here. Allegiant and Breeze don’t have that, but American sure does.

American will serve the market with its secret weapon, the 65-seat CRJ-700. As I wrote previously, American has the ability to put a nearly unlimited number of 65-seaters into its fleet. That is not the case for Delta and United thanks to pilot scope clause restrictions. It makes all too much sense for American to take these airplanes and put them in untested markets like Provo, because it might actually work.

If the market works well, then American can upgauge. If it doesn’t, well, it didn’t hurt to give it a try. It has the regional fleet to be able to experiment like that while others don’t.

I honestly don’t know how well this market will do, but it does give people south of Salt Lake a reason to fly American if they normally would have just flown Delta from SLC. There is some money there with the tech companies in the region, and American can connect those people around the world.

It’s a small market, and the impact on American’s bottom line will not be large, but as long as it contributes anything to the bottom line, American will presumably be happy.

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48 comments on “Provo is American’s Future

  1. It’s a direct shot at Breeze’s entry to DFW. They don’t play around when protecting the mega hub.

    Not that anyone really needs to fight Breeze. Timing on this post is great. I was supposed to fly them from Norfolk to Providence last night. Scheduled for leave at 9. Delay, delay, delay. No food or drink in the concourse everything closed.

    Can’t leave the concourse because the checkpoint closed at 9.

    When it moved back to 12:30 I bailed out. Figured the pilots had to be getting close to illegal. Got a Uber to an hotel and Plan B to Boston this morning.

    Sure enough the flight eventually canceled. And those people are totally screwed. Next flight is Friday and no agreements with other airlines.

    I figured I was playing with fire flying them. Oh well.

    1. This is where I think AA will have an advantage over Breeze in PVU-DFW. 2x daily compared to 2x weekly is much more attractive (and assuring) along with better IROPS should a cancellation/missed connection occur.

  2. I’ve honestly never understood why pvu wasn’t more popular. There are lots of big companies in Utah valley. Adobe and Qualtrics are at the top of the list. With family in the southern part of the valley, it takes about two hours to get there from SLC. I’m excited to try this if the price is reasonable!

    1. If local companies are the incentive then AA still isn’t doing it right. DFW and PHX? They need SFO or SJC or even OAK. And AA already has 6x daily SLC – DFW, what’s the real strategy they’re after with PVU? And for that matter AA has scared me away with their awful customer service. I regularly flew AA SLC – DFW because of their ~6am flight (it saved me flying the night before and getting a hotel). I loved the timing but hated everything else about it. AA might grab those Breeze and Allegiant pax but that seems like a sketchy growth strategy

      1. AA would preach customer service as much as they proselytize DEI. The airline needs a fundamental shift back toward customer service and valuing the customer.

      2. Why in the world would AA fly to the Bay area from PVU? They have no connectivity in the Bay area. Combine that with not many FF’s or loyal flyers in Utah spells disaster for that route.

  3. American to ISP? Fits their model as a small airport an hour away from LGA and JFK and ISP needs the competition (dominated by Southwest with Breeze and Frontier just hanging around).

    1. They used to fly to/from ISP until a couple of years ago due to the pilot shortage. Their biggest mistake with Islip, IMO, was feeding it through PHL instead of CLT.

    2. Doubt AA would want to use slots at JFK or LGA on such a short flight, especially with domestic connections at JFK being so limited and with ISP and JFK only an hour or so apart – I just checked Google Maps and right now, 8AM on a weekday, the drive is estimated at 1 hour 15 min. And there’s also the LIRR/Airtrain option, which Provo doesn’t have to SLC.

      AA had been offering Eagle service from ISP to PHL for connections but dropped that flight, officially due to the regional pilot shortage. In terms of connections, restarting PHL would be easier.

      Frontier has a 44% share at ISP compared to Southwest’s 50.5% (the rest is Breeze), so it’s actually a major competitor to WN.

      1. The suggestion wasn’t to fly to NYC from ISP, but to serve ISP from another hub to compete with / balance ISP. But competing with their own hub/focus city (to the extent LGA/JFK is a hub for AA!) is presumably less attractive than competing with a DL fortress hub in SLC.

      2. Provo actually has similar rail-based connections to SLC with similar frequencies (except no service on Sundays) on weekdays as the LIRR Ronkonkoma Branch to AirTrain

        FrontRunner 75 minute ride Orem to North Temple, easy escalator ride up to the TRAX Green Line light rail with a 13 minute ride directly to the Airport Terminal.

        From Long Island Ronkonkoma Branch is 61 minutes Ronkonkoma to Jamaica, AirTrain is at least a 13 minute ride to the Airport Terminal

        1. From Ronkonkoma to Jamaica should be a bit faster now that the stop at Mineola has been eliminated. Trains now run express from Hicksville.

    3. A few years ago, I flew WN into ISP because I had some work on Long Island and wanted somewhere convenient to fly in and out. Of course, WN ran into a system-wide tech irrops because their 80386 computers failed. Cancellation and no way to get out on them. AA was still flying out of there, though, and I was able to book an ISP-PHL-ORD flight leaving less than an hour later. I appreciated having AA there to bail me out.

  4. Tech traffic is usually low yield. For the most part, they dont pay for high yield tickets – they go as cheap as possible. Amazon in Seattle does NOT pay for business class tickets for international travel. I have several friends who work there who are pretty senior and they always fly coach to Europe or Asia unless they pay for the upgrade themselves with miles/upgrade certificates or cash. Similar in most tech companies. While there are exceptions, tech tends to be pretty low yield.

      1. I’m still shocked that Delta & Alaska have specific check-ins for Microsoft (and maybe Amazon @ DL?). National & Hertz even have a few spots earmarked for Microsoft renters…

    1. Disagree about tech being cheap. Amazon is famously cheap (and generally unpleasant to work for), but other big tech companies are not.

      Facebook, Google, and Apple all fly their people in business class for long haul. United makes a lot of money flying big tech employees from SFO to Europe and Asia.

    2. Counterpoint: Tech worker here working for a cost-focused company. Although we have a “buy the cheapest” rule, I have some flex in which airline I choose as long as it is within range AND if the flight is over 4 hours can book premium economy/economy plus (depending on the situation). That takes a domestic ticket from $129 to $350 one way, and all of a sudden I am a fairly premium traveler for the airline. Then, on my own time I book business… that is the real win with tech workers.

  5. I can see amaller cities in the West such as IDA being good candidates too. Especially when the big city alternative is a 5 hour drive away. Unfortunately, I doubt these commecting cities will be offered competitive fares.

    1. AA already serves IDA from Phx and dfw.
      It was a good candidate.

      As it pertains to PVU, I’m curious if AS will start service from SEA. The AA network paired with AS is pretty compelling for smaller cities in the Mtn West or PNW.
      In my mind, Alaska service to PVU will be the tell whether this AA move is a response to Breeze or truly part of their network strategy outlined at investor day. But just my opinion.
      PVU would be the only city west of CO I can think of with aa service to DFW and PHX without SEA AS service.

      1. I was just thinking that, too. An E175 might be able to make SEA, SFO, and SAN work. Maybe seasonal to MZT, PVR, or SJD, too. I’ve no idea where Provoans like to fly, but those seem like likely targets in the AS network, provided they don’t provoke a massive DL retaliation. Not sure that they have the spare capacity for any of that, but a SEA flight for starters is probably very doable.

  6. Sounds a little like Sonoma County airport (STS), which is about 1.5 – 2 hour drive from OAK and SFO. Historically served by AS with prop planes but some LCCs entered to places like Phoenix/Mesa and AA decided to give it a try with DFW and PHX. UA also tried it (to SFO, which seems like a mistake, DEN would be much better) but pulled out during the pandemic. AA has stuck with it and even upgauged the DFW flight to mainline, while PHX still seems to be mostly CRJ. I think AA has been smart to serve this airport and it seems to be working, over 500k population in Sonoma alone and plenty of money up there, plus the drive to alt airports is long enough that people will pay a premium to fly out of STS.

    AS has increased service with some mainline and also new destinations and it all seems to be sticking. I don’t know how many other airports around the country are similar to STS but I do think it was underserved and AA has found some success there. Maybe this small/mid market idea has some legs.

  7. Missing one big source of demand in Provo: the Missionary Training Center. Every week, hundreds have to be bused to SLC for domestic or international destinations. Connecting Provo to Dallas hub gives AA a serious shot at winning more business from the Mormon church. It’s a massive account.

  8. Yeah, I think this “Silicon Slopes” thing probably got started back in the 90’s (and they didn’t call it that then) when Micron Technologies built a big facility in Lehi. The rest is history, thanks to BYU AND UT Valley University. The air quality is lot better in the area since the days of Geneva Steel having a mill (not far from PVU airport), and these things have contributed to the Utah Valley being a very beautiful and desirable place to live. Thus, it’s seen explosive growth. This is a great market in which to grow not just a new airport/passenger terminal but expanded service as well. SLC (the airport) is probably an hour’s drive (depending on traffic) from Provo/Orem and even cities to the north are (American Fork, Lehi, etc) are much closer to PVU. For those who are LDS (over 80% of that market, though not your’s truly), the missionary training center is in Provo too. Perhaps – some day – some of those missionaries could fly from PVU. Who knows? Anyhow, it’s a market with a lot of potential. Brilliant move by AA to tap into it with service to two important hubs. Smartest thing I’ve seen them do in quire a while. They could do a lot more here than merely get even with Breeze.

    Speaking of whom, Breeze has a ton of potential here too to increase service to other southern CA airports like SAN or LGB or ONT from Provo. People in that area do like to travel, and it’s a looong drive to anywhere out of state. Flying is common, if the price point is right.

  9. Another added benefit to flying in/out of PVU – it is ~10 minutes driving time closer to Skinwalker Ranch than SLC is. I am sure this will be a huge draw for Amazon teams coming in to film the series every year! (if they come from PHX or DFW) Great series, if you have not seen it …..

  10. AA’s strategy of using CR7s makes sense.
    While AA, DL and UA all serve small towns and none of them has any more advantage in connecting those to its network, AA knows full well that they have to be careful not to dump too match capacity into airports that have been developed by upstarts and much smaller carriers.
    AA has the “advantage” of not being terribly profitable but they still have hubs that they have to “defend” and smaller jets make sense to not throw too much capacity into the market.
    And, if there really is a market at PVU, then DL and UA might end up there and can do so on the basis of AA being there, not because they were drawn by startups.

    1. So if DL does exactly what AA is doing it’s smart and good business. When AA initially does it, they’re being “drawn by startups.” Am I reading that correctly?

      1. no, you are not reading it correctly.
        AA is adding service because someone else is starting service in a AA hub. AA serves lots of small cities but so do other carriers.
        It would be much harder for DL or UA to justify new service if one of those new carriers were serving cities other than DL or UA hubs.
        Using CR7s is a low risk way to enter those markets without throwing too much capacity into the market.
        If AA is successful, then it is much easier to say that DL and/or UA have entered the market because a market that AA has developed a market that is suitable for network carriers.

        most importantly, I think AA is doing something that would pass the “sniff test” of being acceptable from those that would argue that big carriers try to limit competition.

        1. If someone isn’t reading what one writes “correctly”. maybe one should work on one’s writing skills. In the interests of full disclosure I can be guilty of the same thing – writing what seems perfectly clear to me while giving readers a completely different impression. Words often have different meanings to our readers than to us as writers. And readers often read what they want to read instead of what’s actually written.

          But it’s important to remember that Tim, while he does make salient points from time to time, truly believes in his heart that his beloved (and i do mean his beloved) Delta is the world’s only PERFECT airline. That’s why he’s always so defensive, and constantly argues that his beloved does everything “better” than anyone else. Delta is an excellent airline – but it isn’t PERFECT.

          1. and sometimes, people are unable to comprehend what someone else says or writes because of their bias – such as thinking that any company is “perfect” or “beloved” = terms I have never used.

            I DID SAY in my very first sentence that AA’s strategy of using CR7s makes sense and went on to say that it is easier for DL and UA (and I used BOTH in the same way the two times I used any airline other than AA) to enter the market because of AA’s presence and the track record that a network carrier develops.

            I will actually be interested to see how PVU works for AA and if it leads to any more network carrier growth in some of these small cities that new carriers are starting.

            in other news, UA just reported its 1st quarter financials and reported a small loss as was expected but they are reporting strong guidance for the rest of the year. They also are expecting just 66 new aircraft including 5 787s for 2024 which is about 1/3 of what they were expecting. They also have commitments from leasing companies for almost 3 dozen new CFM A321NEOs (an engine change from UA’s other orders) for 2026 and 2027 deliveries so will recovery a small part of the capacity Boeing can’t deliver.
            CF has had a lot of US 3 coverage of late but this might be one of the more interesting quarters to analyze the industry and where it is going esp. as part of his partnerships with Jon and Brian.

          2. Tim is getting all defensive because he knows that Provo may eventually start to draw significant flyers away from SLC. He sees AA as encroaching on DL’s “territory”. It’s a simple as that.

    1. PF – It was an Embraer 190 primarily, going from Jun 2011 to Jan 2013. But there was a period in May/Jun 2012 where it did operate on the Q400.

  11. AA’s strategy is also likely why they are adding Evansville-O’Hare, a route. EVV lost both Detroit and O’Hare in recent years, both markets with decades of history, leaving only CLT, ATL and DFW service.

  12. This is a great development for those who live in markets outside those serviced by the airlines currently flying out of Provo. I would love to fly AA from Pittsburgh to Provo, given easy connections via DFW, and avoid the extra hour drive and dreaded walk to Concourse B.

  13. This would be an OK strategy if they had decent frequency, but they don’t. Until they do, this won’t do much.

    You need to have enough frequency that travelers who value frequency go for it. Otherwise, if the frequency is minimal, you’re not gonna get much more than the Allegiant customer.

    There seems to be an informal agreement not to poach hub airports. United could have long ago done Provo, Delta could have long ago done Ft Collins. With decent frequency it would attract people for whom avoiding the hassle of DEN or SLC is worth it. Nope. They leave each others hubs unmolested.

      1. But you purchased her ticket?

        That doesn’t mean I want her sitting next to me!

        1. I really think Cranky is missing a huge opportunity to incorporate a bunch of Fletch graphics on the map, a la our favorite map of Tokyo.

  14. Provo is part of the fast growing Utah County which is part of the fastest growing state in the US. Last I checked Utah County was edging 700,000 in population. AA will be the only carrier to offer connections to the rest of the US as well as the world. I expect the flights to do quite well. More people fly between Provo and Phoenix (PHX, AZA) than Salt Lake City and Phoenix.

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