Boston Is Now A Bigger Hub For American Airlines Than New York JFK

American Airlines has 9 hubs: Dallas Fort-Worth, Chicago O’Hare, Charlotte, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Miami, Philadelphia, New York JFK, and Washington National. Given recent service changes perhaps they should drop New York JFK and add Boston.

American’s Confused New York JFK Strategy

American Airlines refers to New York JFK as a hub, however they’ve had a love-hate relationship with the New York market. US Airways management sold much of their position at New York LaGuardia to Delta for cash and slots at Washington National. And ever since they took over American they’ve been in search of a strategy.

  • In 2014 they talked about bringing customers to New York rather than timing schedules to meet the needs of New Yorkers. We saw a growth in flights from places like Richmond, with flights timed for Richmond customers to fly to New York in the morning and return home at the end of the day.

  • They shifted to talking about New York as a ’boutique business’ market, suggesting that there are business routes they can productively serve without trying to meet the needs of all New York business customers (or meet the leisure needs of New York business travelers).

Towards that end they’ve invested in Flagship check-in, they’ve opened a Flagship lounge with Flagship dining, and they’ve grown the footprint of the Flagship lounge by taking over one of two Admirals Clubs. They’ve trumpted an ‘all 777’ transatlantic and South America route network, which limits them to destinations that can be profitably served by their largest aircraft.

American Airlines Has Retrenched At JFK

A year ago I wrote about a New York JFK death spiral at American and talked to their head of planning Vasu Raja coming away with the conclusion that they viewed their winning move as not to play.

Since then American has reduced service at New York JFK markedly.

American has slots to operate about 108 flights a day at New York JFK. This week they were operating about 76 flights, or 70% of their allowable total.

Boston Is Seeing Big Growth

The airline announced a ramp up in service at Boston on Tuesday to Raleigh, Wilmington, N.C., and Indianapolis – pointedly on Delta earnings day. That comes after earlier additions to service like London, Cancun and Key West.

Boston is currently a Delta focus city. Austin, Boston, and San Jose are Delta focus cities as well and American recently announced Austin – Boston and Austin – San Jose service. This is all notable because it’s a huge departure from US Airways management strategy of rarely flying any flights that do not touch a hub.

With the new service American will operate 106 daily flights to 19 destinations from Boston Logan airport. That’s the potential size of their New York JFK operation, and 50% larger than the currently scheduled number of flights at JFK.

American has de-emphasized connections at New York JFK in their focus on ’boutique business routes’ from the city. They don’t appear to see as connecting flow as what defines a hub (Washington National is largely an origin and destination market as well). With more flights out of Boston, at what point does Boston Logan become an American Airlines hub?

Without the number of widebodies New York sees, of course, Boston isn’t yet surpassing New York JFK’s passenger count for the airline. However, like New York, Boston is a major city for American’s partner carriers like British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Iberia, and Japan Airlines.

What Kind Of Competitive Response Will We See For American’s Boston Growth?

Delta’s strength in Boston has been short routes with weaker load factors but high fares, with flights to the Midwest and Carolinas. American is coming after those routes and potentially precipitating a fare war. It will be interesting to see what Delta does in response, such as putting Airbus A220s on bread and butter short American routes that do not touch their own hubs. Will JetBlue add service at Boston as a response?

Airline executives have suggested for years that ‘this time is different’ and they won’t engage each other this way (which is why American will never lose money again).

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. Doesn’t AA refer to the hub as “New York” (which includes LGA and JFK) as opposed to just JFK?

  2. “Boston is currently a Delta focus city. Austin, Boston, and San Jose are Delta focus cities” – I believe Delta upgraded Boston to hub status

  3. Gary,

    what is your obsession with AA and JFK?

    Seriously, you repeat your self like every month, ranting and venting.

    Get over it! It’s Friday! Happy hour is on. Go relax!

  4. Vasu Raja doesn’t have a clue. The genius who actually thought Bologna would be a go to destination while United decided on Naples, (where people actually want to go,) must hate New York. Thank God he’s has that credit card revenue coming in to cover up his stupidity!

  5. AA NYC direction isn’t bad. JFK focus on long haul and major markets for them, point to point service which makes sense in today’s market. LGA does the east coast / midwest connections. Moving away from JFK to PHL for international connections makes HUGE business sense, it’s a better connecting hub than JFK. AA was always big in Boston. They still were the #2 passenger carrier even with fewer routes than DL there last year. Boston, similar to PHX, LAX and JFK are destinations verses transfer hubs (although PHX is more of a hybrid). They are doing in NYC what the did in LA and looking at how to make the most money out of their major airports as either transfer hub or destination points. From a route management perspective, I think AA does a pretty good job, you may not agree with it but this is another area where they just don’t do what DL does.

  6. This is a silly article — it’s impossible to compare JFK without looking at LGA as well (e.g. LGA has 36 daily shuttle flights to DCA/BOS/ORD, similar to BOS’s ~31 shuttle flights to LGA/DCA/ORD).

    This is also ignoring O/D for other LGA destinations.

  7. Have you ever tried to connect at JFK? Have you ever see the delays at JFK on a good day? Connecting through JFK or LGA is pretty much a nightmare. I think it is wise of them to get out of JFK except for long hauls with 777’s. I would never choose to connect in JFK if I had a choice to connect in another AA hub such as PHL or CLT. And I avoid DL’s hub at ATL for the same reason, thank you very much

  8. AA have been forced into the BOS expansion due to 2 factors;
    1 – DL and B6 expansion as they race towards 200 flights per day (DL) and 250 (B6)
    2 – AA lease on gates is up in 2021 and BOS (becoming very constrained) has a use them or lose them policy.

  9. AA was big in Boston and then became basically a third rate player in Boston. And now AA is back trying to make Boston big for it.

    AA was the biggest at JFK and substantial at LGA, but now AA is a has-been for NYC. Maybe at some point AA will do this kind of BOS dance at JFK too.

    With DL prepared to get bigger at MIA and have already sort of made AA into a sort of has-been at LAX, AA’s going to end up with the scraps that DL lets it have for now: DFW, PHL, CLT and PHX?

  10. Have you ever see the delays at JFK on a good day? Connecting through JFK or LGA is pretty much a nightmare. I think it is wise of them to get out of JFK except for long hauls with 777’s. I would never choose to connect in JFK if I had a choice to connect in another AA hub such as PHL or CLT.

  11. While anecdotal, I know plenty of people in New York who only fly AA / one world and don’t consider anything else. These are generally finance professionals whose companies pay first/ biz class fares for their work travel. Most of that travel is to the destinations AA specializes in- LA, Chicago, London, San Francisco (though a bit weaker there for sure), Hong I’m king (via Cathay), Tokyo (via JAL). In the past you’ve ranted / opined that American’s decision to pull Orlando from jfk would make AA non-viable For these customers since business people go on vacation. Well, at least for the many people I know, they’re not vacationing in Florida. If anything, it’s Miami, which American serves well. In the summer? Nantucket. Which AA serves in the winter. Can AA be everything to everybody in nyc as you seem to want it to be? No. But they do serve a certain high yield market quite well.

  12. As an international gateway, JFK stinks for anyone east of the Mississippi unless they’re living in NYC, CLT or MIA. Connecting via LGA and a JFK-LGA taxi ride is a hassle and a risk, adds at least $70 to one’s travel costs round-trip, and is intimidating for anyone who isn’t familiar with NYC.

    If AA waned to make JFK a hub, it would need to abandon LGA and build a regional terminal at JFK. AA apparently thinks that’s not worth the investment, and prefers to effectively start from scratch somewhere else. That leaves JFK exactly as AA describes it; a lucrative but saturated market.

  13. Your obsession with AA’s Pull Down at JFK is getting to Be a “boil on the ass” that needs to be Popped. Get OVER IT Already! Many Passengers have NO Desire to make a Connecting Flight at JFK and never have. I Know You think You Know More than Any Airline Manager or (Anyone in General) but I am pretty certain These People K-n-o-w a Hell of a lot More than You Do on a Given Day when it comes to the Big Picture. If AA pulls down JFK and United decides they do not want to return to JFK, So WHAT? There are other Carriers to choose from, so Make the Choice. Your Continual “Hard On” over what AA does and doesn’t Do or whether You heard about it First just Makes You a Fat Slob Blogger BLOWBAG!. Get a Life!

  14. If you look at Delta’s site, Boston was upgraded to Hub status. As someone who flies out of BOS at least 3x a month, I am choosing Delta whenever possible. They have many more international options and now fly to O’Hare, Newark, PHL and Miami. Makes business travel on a single airline really easy.

    AA does have a major advantage though with terminals. B has many more amenities and food options than delta’s terminal A

  15. @GUWonder … Or should I refer to you as the ‘Has Been’ ..

    AA was never the largest at JFK ..they’ve always had a good presence, but never that .. So your analysis is wrong.

    AA actually has a much stronger route network NOW at LGA than they ever did, since it’s seen as the “business” preferred airport .. so your analysis is wrong.

    AA is consistently the largest at LAX and continues to grow and invest in their facilities . Your analysis is wrong.

    MIA will at best be a focus city for DL, not a hub … your analysis is wrong… they also have a little airport just a short hop away called ATL..

    Go ahead and let us know when the wedding day is for you and Ed Bastian….

  16. Until I start seeing AA actually advertising in BOS, I won’t believe that they’re actually challenging DL.

    Plenty of B6 advertising on actual trains, DL/VS on the stations, both on highway billboards. I definitely see social media ads for DLs lie flat BOS-LAX. But not a peep from AA when they were attempting to compete in the lax-bos lie flat fare war. Hell I heard more about Austin service than I did about daily LHR service.

    And in terms of serving O&D with leisure routes – nonstop las and mco would show that they mean it, but from a business standpoint DL and B6 are entrenched and they’d lose hard before they gained meaningful market share.

  17. As a WAS based customer I hate this. AA has removed the ability for me to connect in JFK to Europe or west coast as there are only 2 flights between dca and the times are terrible.

  18. Gary, I say keep writing about AA and their retreat at JFK. Forget those who say you should stop writing about AA’s shift in strategy from JFK. JFK is important because it’s a global airport…and an important point of entry for so many airlines.

    Sure, JFK might not be the best airport to connect through, but there is A LOT of O&D traffic that AA should serve from the airport–just look at B6 and how a large portion of their domestic and international represents people actually originating from or going to New York.

    And for connections, there are a number of former and current international partner airlines that serve only JFK and not other East coast or Midwest AA hubs (think China Southern, Royal Air Maroc, LATAM Airlines, Finnair, S7). None of these carriers serve Philadelphia nor Chicago (only Finnair flies to ORD seasonally during summer). I’m sure these international partners would LOVE the flexibility of more connectivity at JFK. They certainly aren’t flying to Philly to get it.

    JFK is important and should be written about because it (or at least another NYC airport such as EWR) is a very important puzzle to having a truly GLOBAL airline based in the US. As much as PHL can be more profitable for AA given lower competition and operating costs, it just will never compare to the importance of having a NYC airport like JFK in the mix of the airline’s global strategy.

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