At an internal American Airlines employee meeting this past week, a flight attendant asked about the future of flying from Philadelphia, one of the American Airlines hubs that’s recovered least from the pandemic. The terminal itself hasn’t seen a lot of love but it’s a place where American has focused its European departures – and even domestic flights very much rely on bringing passengers to those Europe flights.
The summer before the pandemic American was sending flights out of remote stands in Philadelphia, and building a new Flagship lounge. Now there’s no announced plan to open that lounge, and the airline is operation just 850,000 departing seats this month – down a third from 1.3 million in August 2019, according to schedule data from Cirium Diio Mi.
Brian Znotins, American’s Vice President of Network and Schedule Planning, laid out the airline’s vision for Philadelphia – which is many ways is what is was before the pandemic. Even though American will be able to support more transatlantic flying from New York JFK with their JetBlue partnership, Philadelphia will remain their primary connecting gateway to Europe.
And with smaller and more fuel efficient Airbus A321XLRs coming into the fleet they’ll be able to serve summer seasonal Europe destinations year-round – and more destinations than they’ve served in Europe as well.
Obviously there hasn’t been a lot of demand transatlantic, and we’ve had to reduce capacity there to match demand. Over the course of this winter we’ll start trickling flights back in. But where we’re bullish is for the summer of 2022. We’ve had a number of travelers who have postponed their Rome trip for two years in a row now. So we expect the summer of 2022 to be our best summer ever transatlantic. And Philadelphia will continue to play a primary role in getting those passengers across the ocean.
What I’m most excited about for Philadelphia is the A321XLR airplane that’s coming in 2023 for us. That will allow us to fly more year-round destinations out of Philadelphia.
For those of you that are familiar with Philadelphia flying we’d do a lot of European flying for 3 months in the summer and then it would go away and we’d fly that widebody somewhere domestically. That widebody domestically wouldn’t actually make money for us.
If you add up the whole year, the three months in the summer making money in Philadelphia and the other 9 months of the year losing money domestically that airplane lost money for us on a year-round basis. And that’s one of the reasons we took the fleet consolidation that we did.
But the A321XLR has a lower departure cost and it has a lower seat cost. So we’ll not only be able to add new flights to Philadelphia that will be profitable and sustainable but we’ll be able to fly our existing markets more on a year-round basis.
So you won’t see that buildup capacity in the summer and it disappears in the winter and you’ve got all that variability in our plan. So overall Philadelphia will remain our primary transatlantic gateway. We’ll fly other markets transatlantic as well, but Philadelphia is our best connecting gateway geographically and we plan to keep it that way going forward.
It’s interesting to hear this A321XLR vision for Philadelphia, since two and a half years ago they were talking up plans for long haul 787 flying there as the future, while it seems we’ll be seeing much more A321XLRs in the future.