American Airlines Pilot Chatter: New Heathrow Flights, Giving Up On LAX – And Growth

Most airline employees – especially the front line – gossip about their company, talk strategy, but don’t actually know what’s going on. You should never believe what a flight attendant tells you about their airline’s planes for routes or the frequent flyer program.

Last week I flew Austin – Washington Dulles and a flight attendant told me American was planning to start flying Austin – Washington National. She was sure of it! I explained the perimeter rule to her and how American cannot fly Austin – Washington National without the Department of Transportation assigning ‘beyond perimeter’ slots that are created in law. It turns out she’d heard this news from… a passenger.

That said sometimes there are real tidbits of news, or at least interesting opinions. So I thought I’d pass along these ‘pilot tidbits’ shared to twitter by serial airline newsbreaker JonNYC along with context for what they mean.

More American Airlines flights to London Heathrow (using British Airways slots, as part of their joint venture) would be interesting news indeed. I do not know if this is happening, or if these routes are the right ones.

The rest is opinion about strategy.

  • Los Angeles. We know American has walked away from LAX as a transoceanic gateway except for flights to joint venture partner hubs (London, Tokyo, Sydney)… and that LA-based pilots are not pleased about their loss of flying. American feels they cannot compete and profit on heavily saturated routes where there’s better service from Asian airlines.

  • Philadelphia Philadelphia is the old legacy US Airways transatlantic hub. They mostly competed for cheap connecting traffic. When they took over American they walked away from New York City because they had no scale. They lacked the slots to be as big as Delta at New York JFK and LaGuardia and couldn’t match United at Newark. (Legacy US Airways management sold their LaGuardia position to Delta before taking over American.)

    The JetBlue joint venture changes that and lets them get aggressive again, plus now that Vasu Raja is in charge of AAdvantage he’s responsible for the credit card cash cow and doesn’t want to walk away from New York City card spend.

  • Aggressiveness Chief Revenue Officer Vasu Raja isn’t any ‘less growth-oriented’ than he was pre-pandemic but the opportunities now are different. What is Austin and Tampa all about except growth?

    American retired their Boeing 767s and don’t have new 787s what does this pilot source want his airline to fly to ‘secondary Europe’ river cruise markets? And what current Boeing 787 flights would he give up for them to do it?

    I’ve maintained that American’s fleet retirements – walking away from the 75s, 76s, and A330s – was a mistake. They’re still paying leases on the A330s, even. At least they got something from Amazon for the 767s and they must’ve gotten something from Northern Pacific or its lessor for a few of the 75s. But given the fleet American has to work with I don’t see how they could be more aggressive internationally right now.

I’d love to see more American Airlines flying to London Heathrow – replacing British Airways aircraft still flying with their old business cabin. (BA’s new business product, coupled with their faster internet crossing oceans, means I wouldn’t take this tradeoff if it meant losing those flights.)

For award travelers more American flights and fewer BA flights means less saver availability but much lower cash outlay when booking travel on points.

Beyond that I’d love to see a world where American competed successfully at LAX. I don’t think they’ve got a great Pacific strategy at this point (Seattle doesn’t replace LA as a Pacific hub). But I’m thrilled to see how they’ve found some mojo in New York and they really need to hang onto that JetBlue partnership to keep it.

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. As an LAX based traveler AA has grown more frustrating. Solid points redemptions to Europe vs Star Alliance are abysmal. I can leverage BA if I want to pay the ridiculous fuel surcharges, though I just cannot see that happening. Outside of the Caribbean I only find myself using partners when making miles redemptions.

  2. You can’t even get a late flight SFO to LAX anymore. Easy to take AS instead.

  3. The AA Trans Pacific Experiment has been a complete disaster. They were never focused on developing the Hub and simply thought the traffic would come to them and fall in their lap. There isn’t any reason that these routes do not work from LAX, they just want a higher and quicker ROI. AA invested in China Southern yet does little with the partnership. AA should be partners with Philippine Airlines to Manila or even fly the route themselves because the demand is there. United has invested and dedicated themselves to serving the Pacific and Asia yet AA and Delta are bumbling their way at every opportunity turn. AA’s international presence in LAX is really disappointing and shows a complete lack of vision.

  4. @roger, AA has never had much success to Asia. It missed an opportunity in 1986 to acquire PA’s network (not sure if Crandall actually did look at it and passed up on it or UA just swooped in) but American has never had great point of sale strength in Asia. The partners it has in the Asia and South Pacific region are less of a strength card now than they were pre-pandemic. CX is a shadow of its former self and HKG is unlikely to regain its spot as a top Asia hub for a long time, if ever. QF and AA have decades of cooperation but it is a fairly niche market focused almost entirely on US-Australia and QF will eventually fly into even more AA hubs making AA flights on its own metal questionable.

    AA tried to make ORD a TPAC gateway and could not. At the time, it had the wrong configuration on the 77Es and the service, well, isn’t a match for much of the competition.

    LAX is a saturated market which pressures yields and in a high fuel environment, it does not make sense to try and continue making LAX something it can’t be other than a domestic operation and a strong O&D station. It is a dreadful place to connect too.

    That leaves DFW and the mega-hub as the only logical way to fill its smallest wide body planes to Asia when service can ramp up again.n

    Philippine Airlines would not be a good partner for AA. MNL skews VFR, is too far, and does not have a strong brand reputation like Asia’s other airlines.

    The future of TPAC for AA (and for DL) is bleak and will look a lot more like it did in the 1990s minus the NRT hublets and such and the route map will be PEK, PVG, HND/NRT, TPE, and SIN and that’s about it and not for all of the US3.

  5. Ah, yes, rumors from the van driver at LHR… historically a reliable source!

    The rumored AA LHR adds are pretty late in the game for a summer 2022 start, unless the idea is to replace BA service for the winter schedule? Would be cool to see AA widebodies at AUS that aren’t a DFW thunderstorm diversion but I’m not holding my breath.

  6. American had also been walking away from Deep South America, not only from New York but even from Miami. They’d rather be the 23rd marginal USA-LHR flight even after JBLU has started to move in, than maintain the only JFK-GIG frequency, even after LATAM has fallen to pieces and all but abandoned its routes and they have zero competition. AA continues to confound.

  7. LAX is out of the way from North America to northern Asia geographically speaking. Seattle is much closer and less out of the way. However, I tend to think American will step up its service to Australia, New Zealand, and Oceania from LAX when it gets more aircraft, since LAX isn’t out of the way to those destinations, and it has a joint venture partner in the region. It seems to me that LAX is saturated with flying to Asia, and most of it is O&D. American and its partners will find the right mix at some point. I also think the relationship with China Southern will become more important going forward.

    Seattle is a better geographic choice for connections on the West Coast than LAX, just as Philadelphia will become the better choice for American’s connecting hub from the East Coast to Europe. The split LGA/JFK hub structure isn’t ideal for connections. New York and LAX will be more focused on O&D, while Seattle and Philadelphia will become American’s places to make connections. What all of this will ultimately look like is something I don’t know, and my speculation could be completely wrong.

    I don’t think walking away from a bunch of worn-out and orphan aircraft was a mistake long term. The A330-300s were quite old and less capable than newer aircraft of that type. And there were only nine of them. The only aircraft it might have made sense to keep are the A330-200s, but the CASM on those aircraft is relatively high, and there were only 15 of them. Then there’s the cost of having a small subgroup of pilots to fly that small orphan fleet.

    These are unusual times. It’s hard to know what the climate will be like in two years, much less five.

  8. Just a few points of clarification –
    Robert Isom has absolutely told Vasu to cut the perpetual money-losing routes that form a large point of AA’s network outside of LHR and some deep S. America routes.
    Parker allowed it to go on for years and finally started to lower the boom before he left which is why Chicago to Asia and then LAX to China were all cut even before covid.
    AA’s dreams of making SEA work as a transpacific gateway are unproven and will undoubtedly fail just because they still have to win over the local SEA market to make SEA to Asia flights work -and there isn’t a single longhaul international market outside of LHR where AA gets higher average fares than DL or UA – and that has been the case for years.
    There is also no assurance that AA’s plans for growing JFK will work; they have cancelled more markets from NYC than any other airline and are trying for the 2nd or 3rd time in many international markets hoping the difference will be the connecting traffic that B6 brings. But just like in SEA, AA has to win in the local NYC market.

    American lost billions of dollars flying to Asia even pre-covid and just broke even to Europe – both when the industry was at its best financial performance in decades, if ever.

    United also lost money to Asia; size does not translate into profits. UA has long treated its international network as a market share game rather than a profit maximizing exercise.

    Delta is the only US airline that consistently made money to all global regions pre-pandemic. Delta also showed a profit to all global regions last summer – in the middle of the pandemic.

    Delta is now the largest airline at LAX in local market revenue and is increasing its international presence with double daily to SYD on some days this winter.

    As for Asia, DL now has the largest JV hub at ICN with KE and, given approvals, will grow even larger even as DL has the most flights at HND which has consistently delivered lower average fares for all airlines than NRT – and that gap will continue to grow as Japan reopens. DL and UA are at the same number of flights to China so the “big advantage” that UA had in the Pacific has evaporated since they will maintain that position until all frequency limitations have been removed – which could be years if ever because China subsidized its own airlines across the Pacific pre-covid and does not want to do it again.

    LAX is a huge O&D market and DAL is the only US global airline that is the largest carrier in both of its west coast hubs – SEA and LAX.

    AA made the right decision to get rid of a bunch of aircraft during the pandemic and, given that they have pushed back deliveries of 789s, they aren’t expecting a whole lot of growth but rather reshuffling their network.

    Isom is going to stop the financial bleeding that Parker could not do and that has significant implications for AA’s international network.

  9. Agree that Tampa is a growth market. Don’t you think it deserves a N/S from LAX? Please? If AA can justify several daily N/S LAX-MCO,, surely they can justify one (during the day, please) to TPA.
    AS flies N/S LAX-TPA but only for a few months in the “season.”

  10. The America West management has just made a complete mess of the once rather good American AIrlines. It’s a mom-and-pop dime store trying to run a global retail giant. There’s been very little good of anything coming out of AA since this whole debacle happen years ago. The management is clearly over its head trying to run the largest airline in the world. One would think the distinction of the world’s largest airline would actually have some level of quality, consistency, and prestige. Instead….we get those awful stale “turkey” sandwiches in “first class”.

    From a route planning perspective there’s no way that a NYer will go to PHL to get to Europe. Yeah it’s cheaper for AA, but again, with the wrong management running things this is what you get. It will be the same thing for LAX. Being in major markets means you get choice and just pushing traffic through hubs that might be cost effective for a carrier is not going to get much use by local traffic. How many people in ATL take DL because there’s a flight to almost everywhere non-stop? When I traveled to Central America, South America, and the Caribbean extensively, AA had all of that covered with a non-stop flight. That was THE reason I was loyal. Having to go through other hubs is not a way to keep loyalty and that loyalty is how you command higher prices. Of course penny watchers they seem incapable of understanding that. Short-term thinking rarely ever generates long-term rewards.

  11. It probably says more about AA’s strategy in LAX that DL has consistently flown LAX-TPA (and MSY and a bunch of other markets) even as AA continues to be unable to make those work.
    How is that an airline that touts how new its fleet is can’t make major routes from LAX work when DL can?

  12. “From a route planning perspective there’s no way that a NYer will go to PHL to get to Europe.” Same for DC, though I would never say “no way” – it is just that I would not do it without the product being better and cheaper, and have as much back up in the event of IRROPs as flying out of NYC or WAS. And that is not happening any time soon.

  13. #Gary Leff,
    I believe I mentioned that LAX is focused on O&D. I probably should have added it’s because there’s a lot of it. But I figured readers would figure that out. Living in Phoenix as I do, most of the people I know who connect to Asia (and I know quite a few) do so through LAX.

    @Tim Dunn,
    Please prove (with 100% verifiable evidence) that “Robert Isom has absolutely told Vasu to cut the perpetual money-losing routes.”

  14. A third of new york metro area is quicker to phl then jfk. Does anyone remember that Philadelphia is the second largest metro area on the East coast.

    The new bus/air situation is interesting in Philadelphia

  15. @Tim Dunn: Wrong. DAL is not the largest carrier at SEA. They are 1/3 the size of AS. Try again.

    You can keep on spreading false information about DL’s success on TPAC. But the truth is that their HND flights are so empty that they are reducing all of SEA-HND, ATL-HND and DTW-HND to 4x-3x weekly. If you look at their seatmaps on their HND routes, it is just a joke. They have even struggled to go daily even on SEA-ICN. On the other hand JL will go daily to SEA. On the long haul international front, AA is still larger than DL at LAX with 2x daily LAX-LHR vs DL’s 1x daily LAX-SYD. It is anyone’s guess when DL will resume LAX-HND.

  16. @Tim Dunn, @dblbla:

    Care to talk about how an airline like DL cannot make an even larger major market like ORD work from LAX?

    Choosing random routes that DL flies from LAX that AA does not, just to suit your arguments is rather silly.

  17. first, Chicago is a hub for AA, UA and WN. your argument about size should also apply to Atlanta, Detroit and Minneapolis for AA and UA. You do understand the concept of hubs, don’t you?

    And DL is still the largest airline in all of the Midwest. It’s revenue at both DTW and MSP exceeds that of AA and UA at ORD or WN at MDW. A two hub strategy at DTW and MSP combined has long generated more revenue than any airline with a single hub strategy at Chicago.

    As for SEA, AS is not a global carrier. DL is the largest GLOBAL carrier at its two west coast hubs. UA is 3rd at LAX behind DL and AA but first at SFO. AA has fallen to 2nd at LAX and is no longer first at its only west coast hubs. WN Is also on the verge of overtaking AA at PHX. We’ve seen this movie before.

    and the evidence clearly shows that Vasu is not free to add dozens of routes which data shows haven’t worked. The fact that AA has a much smaller widebody fleet and is not rushing to replace them says that they will be a much smaller international carrier than they were before – but will also not lose the large amounts of money they did before.

    And E. Asia including Japan and S. Korea is still heavily restricted which every US airline recognizes and which is why they have redeployed their aircraft to Europe this summer – hoping at least Japan, S. Korea and other markets will open later this year. Every airline’s seatmaps across the Pacific are far from full if you bother to look at all of them.
    None of which changes that ICN is a much larger hub than NRT or HND and DL has more slots at HND than any other foreign airline even as the higher average fares from HND provide more revenue than carriers including AA/JL and UA/NH that are trying to operate hubs at both HND and NRT.

  18. @Tim Dunn: If you think flying 100 times daily to MSP and DTW compensates for not flying to ORD, lol. Btw, Chicago is the third largest city in the US whereas ATL/MSP/DTW are way down, also demand wise. So is TPA. Either way, DL’s once strong network across the midwest from their dual MSP/DTW strategy has pretty much crumbled altogether with crj retirements with most cities just seeing 1 flight a day to each, making them extremely uncompetitive.

    And yeah, flying empty planes with around 10-20% filled 3 times a week warns more revenue than a 70% filled plane running daily. Yeah, try making someone else believe that.

  19. KS
    DL’s hubs at DTW and MSP have simply not crumbled.
    You and others somehow can’t grasp that sharing hubs in one city with two other airlines (AA and UA at ORD and WN at MDW) generates far less revenue and lower average fares than having two hubs where you are the dominant carrier – which is what DL has in DTW and MSP.

    DOT data shows that DL’s average fares from its Midwest hubs are far higher than from any major carrier from Chicago.

    btw, DL is the 3rd largest carrier at ORD by revenue and 2nd at MDW. You do realize that AA and UA don’t even fly to MDW? DL also gets the highest average fares from ORD to LGA – yes, you read that right, and also is the largest carrier in the ORD-ATL, DTW, MSP and SLC markets. In other words, where Delta competes from Chicago, it does well. Like better than its competitors well.
    With a 20k SF SkyClub opening and more gates coming in just a few months, you might be careful about deriding DL’s size in Chicago.

    and just a reminder that this article is about AA and the fact that it is ditching more of its grandiose longhaul routes and leaning more and more on what it does well – esp. LHR

    Robert Isom is giving orders to his subordinates – esp. Vasu – to do what makes AA money, not what seems sexy. AA might become a smaller airline – behind DL and UA internationally – but it has a better chance of breaking out of its perpetual underperformance financially than it has had in more than a decade.
    Airlines and their fans are very often more interested in comparing size instead of profits.

    After many long years of Parker, Isom is demonstrating he has a much better understanding of how to run an airline.
    Stay tuned. You might be not only be pleased with where AA is going.

  20. Whoever is making these decisions at American…such as the LAX service reduction, making Philly the prime transatlantic hub,doesn’t seem to be too bright huh? If American is still paying leads on A330’s they should probably reactive as many A330’s as possible. They seem pennywise pound foolish.

  21. @Tim Dunn: What cracks me up the most is how you use the fact that DL flies to MDW a couple of flights a day to somehow blur the reality that DL is simply an afterthought at Chicago. LOL… As DL drops frequencies from more an more Midwestern cities to DTW and MSP, they will soon see their market share taken over by AA and UA. It’s already happening whether you want to see it or not. DL can fly 100 times a day to ATL, but that’s simply not going to compensate for the lack of depth.

  22. KS,
    if you want to believe DL is insignificant in Chicago and the Midwest, you are free to do so.
    But DOT data shows that DL is the largest carrier in the Midwest.
    And why do you think Chicago is such an important market but exclude Atlanta which is a busier airport – and also where AA and UA are an “afterthought” just as at every DL hub in the interior of the US.
    You clearly have no clue about what drives business but it isn’t “mine is bigger” but instead what delivers the highest profits to the owners. DL has done that in spades better than AA and UA for years.

    And I can also assure you that DL will be growing at ORD – adding more major markets even as AA and UA between themselves get to pay for the $8 billion new terminal that fixes the broken international to domestic connections at ORD that has existed for over 35 years.

    When you are ready to deal with facts instead of boasting about stuff that isn’t even boastworthy, get back with us.

    and of course none of this changes that American will be a smaller international carrier with more of their network focused on a smaller number of cities with LHR even proportionately larger than it ever has been.

    I’m not sure why you find that such a bad thing.

    AA is being run by managers now instead of “mine is bigger” people. You should get onboard with them.

  23. btw,
    if ORD is such a great hub for AA, why do they never list it as one of their best performing margins (because it isn’t) and why do they only fly to LHR as the only longhaul year round widebody destination?

  24. That flight attendant cracks me up. It seems that the pandemic has caused too many staffers to forget recent history. Capital-to-capital routes always are of high interest, thus the competition between Air Canada and United IAD-YOW. The relevant point here, though, is that the US DOT required the dropping of several gates at DCA in order to maintain the lost competition when UA acquired AA. Two of them were DCA-AUS and DCA-SJU. jetBlue and Southwest were active bidders for both. In the end? jetBlue was awarded DCA-SJU and Southwest received DCA-AUS. I never fly Southwest but love jetBlue and even I found this DOT decision equitable. Given the sturm und drang of that bidding process, the flight attendant should realize that AUS-DCA on American ain’t happening.

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