Historically American Airlines, under present leadership, studiously avoided competition. When they ran US Airways they eliminated nearly all flights that weren’t out of hubs.
This has changed industry-wide during the pandemic, with airlines opportunistically looking for flights to leisure destinations, and in particular leisure destinations that were open. American Airlines’ Chief Revenue Officer recently described their Vice President of Network and Schedule Planning, Brian Znotins, as spending his time scouring Mexico for airports they didn’t already serve that have paved runways.
Much of the opportunistic flying goes away. That’s something United Airlines made clear. However one legacy of a willingness to experiment more is the focus city that American has in Austin, though they don’t call it a focus city because in the airline industry once you put a moniker on something like that it has seemed to fall apart.
Before the pandemic American Airlines served 8 routes from Austin, flying to its hubs. They’ve quadrupled their destinations since then and passengers are using the airport for connections in a major way as well.
For years Austin has been one of the fastest-growing aviation markets in the country, tracking the city’s growth more generally. This growth has continued – Austin isn’t just UT Austin and Dell Computers, it’s Google, Facebook, Apple, and Tesla now. It’s Oracle, Facebook, Indeed, Amazon, VRBO and eBay.
In December, with seasonal routes to Denver, Fort Myers, and Aspen, American will serve 35 destinations from Austin, for a total of 2340 flights, 327,754 seats, and 292,893,855 seat miles for the month.
During an employee question and answer session after last Thursday’s third quarter earnings call, Brian Znotins explained that they’re looking for cities like Austin where they can opportunistically grow.
The best way to think about it is what cities are growing in the U.S. attracting more corporate business. I think Austin is probably at the top of that where you’ve got companies like Tesla moving to Austin, driving a lot more corporate demand there. To attract that corporate demand you have to fly more and more non-stop. Corporate demand wants nothing more than a non-stop on that route. When we were offering connections over DFW it’s a great connecting market for us. But seeing more and more non-stops offered by other airlines out of Austin, to compete with non-stops you have to offer non-stops. We were doing the same in Austin.
If you look around the country there are other regions that are growing quickly. You could say a Nashville, Tampa, those are all markets that are seeing strong economic growth, attracting new businesses, driving that business demand. Those are the kinds of places that we would evaluate going forward.
Now we don’t have any concrete plans to build another Austin-like schedule in another city right now, but we’ll keep our eyes open and look for the opportunities and seize on them when the time comes.
I have to think that some of the Austin flights don’t wind up working, and even with the buildup in Austin American remains a distant second behind Southwest at the airport. Still, it’s great to see the airline so aggressive.
Raleigh used to be a hub for American, of course, and they build a beautiful facility there. They retained a Raleigh – London Heathrow flight supported by a strong corporate business. Before the pandemic Delta saw the opportunity in Raleigh. Re-building the American Airlines network there would be exciting.