American Airlines Los Angeles-Based Pilots Are Not Content

American Airlines pilots, as a group, aren’t happy. Their union advises people not to come work for the airline. Usually unions want.. more members, not fewer.

In Los Angeles, though, their pilots have a special beef: they don’t get to fly as many places as they used to. In particular, widebody pilots have almost nowhere to go. American dropped LAX as its Asian gateway and decided to focus on domestic flying there instead.

  • American Airlines was losing money on it’s Los Angeles – Asia flying before the pandemic, because these markets were too competitive.

  • South America doesn’t work for them out of LA, either.

  • There will still be some long haul – like Sydney, London Heathrow and Tokyo Haneda – where there’s less competition (and joint venture partner hubs). But Sydney is suspended right now due to lack of widebody aircraft.

American Airlines saw too much capacity in most routes from Los Angeles to Asia. They don’t want to fly where others are flying, because they don’t earn as much as on routes where they’re the only one in the market. Who’s going to choose to fly American Airlines from Los Angeles non-stop to Singapore at the same price and for the same cabin?

A memo went out to LAX-based pilots last week laying out the future at the airport, suggesting there’ll be more flying from Los Angeles in the future. Right now even Boeing 737 pilots are unhappy, because they’ve been flying more Airbus narrowbodies from the airport. They suggest there are lots of planes coming into the fleet, and that Sydney at least will return – and that the airline will be at full strength in LA “just in time for the Olympics.” That’s in 2028.

LAX is a highly constrained airport and American’s real estate there is valuable. It won’t be abandoned but it’s transitioned to mostly domestic flying, and some long haul international. Expect to see flights to Sydney, Tokyo, and London which are home to joint venture partners. Those are the core long haul cities for American from LA.

Here’s the memo, via the esteemed JonNYC:

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, 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. Where doesn’t AA get get killed today? Unless it’s point to point and no other airline is flying I won’t book them. They’ve become a larger Spirit Airline. I don’t see how their business model will hold up with the amount of debt they carry.

  2. Another example of American simply getting out fought in a competitive airline market. Delta is coming to market at LAX with increased frequencies, a brand new check in experience, the largest SkyClub in the system, and partners that offer great connectivity to Europe. Why can’t American simply compete for the customer? Weak

  3. So American can’t make money flying from L.A. to Asia because they have actual competition and they can’t make money flying to South America either but the problem is the market rather than the fact that AA can’t provide a competitive product? As if.

  4. I just checked the market share data – in 2019, American was the top airline at LAX at 19.5%, leading delta a 17.4%. Delta took the lead during the pandemic, and so far this year, Delta is at 21.8%, AA is at 19.4%. Your post suggests they will fall further behind. Again, when customers have choice, Delta is typically fighting and winning while American Airlines is whining, retreating and losing.

  5. Look, AA has not completely restored their domestic schedule at LAX for a few reasons.

    1) Regional pilot shortage, need those pilots at the core hubs.

    2) Japan, China and Australia being closed, therefore little connecting traffic from QF, JL and CX.

    3) Entertainment industry travel reluctance. AA holds most of the contracts for LAX based entertainment firms but they have not been having live, in person events like in 2019 so the demand has been weak. AA’s domestic network will return but they need 3-6 more months to get things stabilized.

    As the pilots whining, boo hoo those are the breaks. Most of AA’s LAX- Asia/South America flying was never profitable and is not coming back. Adjust.

  6. @Sal – good points. @Anthony – so far post pandemic market share trends aren’t indicative of what will be in 2-3 years re: biz travel. Very heavy leisure mix in the trends since 2020 and that will change when Asia opens and biz travel ramps.

    UNITED is the one to watch in LA though. So easy to get out of T7 and avoid the traffic, as well as cut across when departing.

  7. The “leisure mix” excuse is getting tired. Traffic trends are at 90-95% of prepandemic levels, and will reach 100% by the summer. Business travel will ramp, but will be a different mix going forward. And many business travelers are on the road now. In this environment, AA is falling back and Delta is expanding.

    I am actually surprised at Alaska and Southwest being as small as they are (though I guess both do a lot more out of smaller Southern California airports)

  8. Given that the AA/DL comparison is here yet again, it is worth comparing a couple major reasons for AA’s reduction in capacity relative to DL.
    First, the difference is not international. Delta has never been a large longhaul international carrier at LAX and they took the lead w/ hardly any longhaul international routes.
    Second, the JFK-LAX market is the poster child for why Delta has moved ahead of American. Years ago, American decided to replace its 767-200s with A321Ts which cut a majority of the coach capacity. Delta in turn chose to start flying a full widebody schedule and started with internationally configured 767-300ERs. Now they are flying at least half 767-400ERs but both DL 767 configs have 2X more seats than AA’s A321Ts. In addition, DL carries a couple million pounds of cargo per month just between JFK and LAX.
    Third, AA has outsourced a large portion of its north-south flying along the west coast to Alaska while Delta has added most west coast markets that other carriers serve from LAX even if DL is the #2 or smaller carrier in many of those markets.
    Fourth, part of AA’s advantage across its network was its large number of hubs, nearly all of which have LAX as a top O&D which AA served. As AA has reduced the number of point to point routes while Delta has added more, Delta has overtaken or matched AA capacity in many markets.

    And the root of the issue is that American has high unit costs which means it cannot make as much money at the same fare levels as Delta.

  9. Even before the pandemic, ask yourself: would you rather fly an Asian carrier like ANA, JAL, KAL, EVA, SIN, or CX where they offer a much superior product even in economy or a US 3. It’s been well known for a long time that customers prefer to be treated like customers instead of cargo for padding the pockets of your executives or shareholders.

  10. If AA offered a better customer experience both on the ground and in the air to set themselves apart from the competition, LAX could work for the airline. The Parker regime may be over but until someone comes in and has a VISION to make the Airline a better carrier, AA will just be an also ran…..nothing special. It really is astounding how far this carrier has slipped to being mediocre over the last 4-5 years and at this point I really question whether they can turn it around. “Something Special” is not a tagline with this operation.

  11. Not that they have enough widebody aircraft right now, but you would think AA would get creative. LAX-TLV is do-able and there’s one El Al flight a day. From a city the size of LA with it’s Jewish population? There are no LAX-MXP flights, but I’m not sure who AA could pair with to connect. LAX-CMN would connect with OneWorld partner Royal Air Maroc. LAX-MAD and BCN don’t run every day with Iberia. Finnair doesn’t run every day to Helsinki. Aer Lingus only runs part-time during the summer to Dublin and there’s sort of an alliance with them. Dublin can be a great alternative to LHR when connecting on to Europe. LAX-MAN would be another alternative to LHR.

    There are plenty of routes with potential but no competition, but seemingly they’re afraid to go first. However, I think the real story is there aren’t enough widebodies to go around right now, so LAX has gotten the short end of the stick, but they can’t admit that. Let’s see what happens when they get new aircraft deliveries.

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