6 Things I Learned During The American Airlines Earnings Call

American Airlines lost over $2.2 billion in the first quarter, even though things didn’t begin to go south until March. They’re pulling in new cash everywhere they can, cutting costs, and expect not to have any difficulty securing not just payroll protection grants from the U.S. treasury but also subsidized loans.

Those financial metrics aren’t what I’m most interested in at this point, nor the $40 billion in debt they could soon be carrying. Those issues are well covered elsewhere. I wanted to highlight 6 other things last may get less play in broader coverage.

  1. For airlines that are effectively partially nationalized, the key leadership skill is navigating the halls of power in DC. Doug Parker talked extensively about his great working relationship with the U.S. Treasury, and how different this process is than when he sought a bailout as CEO of America West.

    He offered that the leadership that got airlines through the CARES Act will be the leadership that gets through the years ahead. He’s right – and that’s a very different kind of leadership than what’s traditionally required to run a business.

  2. Don’t expect passenger experience investments to snap back right away. The airline has deferred $500 million in non-aircraft capital expenses this year, and already deferred $200 million for next year. Don’t be expecting new Flagship lounge openings any time soon!

  3. They may retiring even more older planes than they’ve announced so far. The Embraer E-190s and Boeing 767s are officially retired. They’ve accelerated retirement of Boeing 757s and Airbus A330-300s. And they’ve removed several smaller regional jets from the fleet already.

    I’ve already written and tweeted about plans in place to potentially pull back the fleet even farther, but this is the first time I’ve seen American discuss publicly the option to retire Airbus A330-200s as well as 42 of their older Boeing 737s.

    Half of these 737s come of lease in 2021, and the other half in 2022. (A332s are “financed out a ways” but retirement would be more for fleet simplification.) They also mentioned looking at older Airbus A320s.

  4. American will keep taking new aircraft deliveries. They keep retiring aircraft but are also growing the fleet with expensive new planes and add debt to their balance sheet. American’s explanation is that these new aircraft are in some cases financed at over 100% so cash flow positive.

  5. Expect business as usual for a smaller airline going forward. American’s Senior Vice President of Planning Vasu Raja said the airline won’t be dropping any hubs, and will not ‘de-peak’ Dallas Fort-Worth, which seemed odd because banked hubs are more expensive to run than rolling ones. They need to be staffed at a peak level even though there’s significant down time between banks of flights.

    Banked hubs mean shorter connection times, which tend to sell better, but are more operationally challenging. With fewer flights in total though they’re less likely to run out of gate space during irregular operations.

  6. It’s getting easier to obtain personal protective equipment. Airline President Robert Isom reported that they have been able to obtain “ample supplies of sanitizer” but there have been “logistical issues” getting masks “to the right place.” They have enough for employees but it will take weeks to sort through the supply chain to ramp up making masks available to passengers, an initiative they announced on Monday. My takeaway here is about broader supply chain improvements in the economy.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. @Gary. Thank you for listening to these earnings calls and reporting back. Very interesting, although there does not seem to be any good news.

  2. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the A320s go, while the cousins to the A319/A321s, there are only 48 of them and were to be replaced by 737s to begin with. Glad to see the A321s updates continuing, flew on recently, huge improvement over the US Airways versions.

    I think next summer the fleet will be: A319/737-800/737-8M/A321/A321T/A321Neo/787-8&9/777-200&300. 10 types (maybe 13 depending on who far along they are with Oasis). Also, saw where people (due to the outbreak) are preferring to “bring their own device”, since they are the only ones touching them and know where they have been. DL might have to start ripping out screens to improve the PAX experience and save $$.

    Thanks for the review Gary.

  3. “American’s explanation is that these new aircraft are in some cases financed at over 100% so cash flow positive.”

    @Gary can you please explain how this works from a financing perspective? Is it that the aircraft was previously purchased at x, and then sold back to an aircraft lessor at y, and the difference is money AA can bank?

    As always, thanks for your analysis on these earnings calls.

  4. There’s no shred of evidence that AA is any better at working with Government than the other airlines.

    This is a failed management team; their financial results reminds us of this yet again (how can they lose more money than UA???). They’re not going to say that they’re good to run an airline because they arent’t. They should be fired immediately.

  5. I know they have plenty of more pressing matters, but any idea when schedules will be updated? Went to book a trip for November and the flights were showing a 767 and A333

  6. Loads more new debt and a smaller airline going forward.

    Hub-and-Spoke system is great for normal times but the airlines should consider a hybrid of hub-and-spoke and point-to-point service in the future.

    Southwest was more resilient during the outbreak as avoiding a hub when possible (even if not a direct flight) now may have an added appeal.

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