Here’s The Future Of The American Airlines Philadelphia Hub

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.

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. Phl will receive a small number of core flights (5-6) in 1-2 years with a small summer seasonal bump with A321’s. No more, possibly/probably less. PHL and PHL flyers are foolish to think otherwise. Hopefully new carriers with International traffic will see an opportunity, otherwise it’s back to the train to JFK circa 1990’s.
    AA needs to go.

  2. So, what are you saying Mike? Will JFK transform into a greater hub for AA? Is that what you’re saying?

  3. Knowing AA long term planning history with this current management clown show, the plans will change in 1-2 years due to “reasons.”

  4. More 321s vs 787s or 777s does not sound like good news for American at Philadelphia. Seems more like a downgrade. 6hrs+ on a narrow body does not sound like the start of a good business trip or vacation.
    For transatlantic flights, think I’ll be sticking to airports beyond the 321 range

  5. Jetblue is using 321 to LHR why can AA use those and focus the wide bodies on longer routes that can be more profitable. .

  6. PHL
    -Prior to 2000, PHL was probably the worst airport in the country, it was disgusting. Since 2000, it has grown and become a very decent hometown airport, similar and on par with the top 10-20. Decent, clean terminals, on going upkeep and a strong route structure. You are not embarrassed.
    -AA grew PHL only due to its dominance as a US Airways primary hub and its lack of market share @ JFK and therefore in the NE. That has now changed and AA no longer needs PHL for international traffic. They only need flights to cover Domestic and International traffic generated by the PHL catchment area. No more, no less if there is $$ to be made.
    -If AA was serious about PHL, there would have been triple the international flying this summer, instead they built JFK, DFW and domestically CLT. Other than LHR/MAD, all other intl routes will be 321’s or not operate. My opinion.
    -AA does not have a good relationship with PHL. Problem employees, higher gate/airport fees,
    old infrastructure, on-going large financial commitment (terminals,runways, etc) in the next 25-50 years, a dysfunctional city and government, not to mention any unforeseen issues.
    -Enough for now, it just isn’t needed. They will drag it out so not to scare passengers to other airlines, but as long as it works they have nothing to lose.
    I look forward to seeing any challengers to AA. In the meantime, I live elsewhere and no longer dependent on AA or PHL.

  7. I’m PHL based. It’s not nearly as bad of an airport as it one was. Not top 10, but a lot better than it was.

    That said, AA fares to Europe ex-phl are outrageous compared to EWR/JFK and even LGA. It can be hundreds cheaper from NYC, sometimes even connecting in PHL (I’m very aware of hidden city ticketing). For any more than 1 ticket, it’s worth the hassle to make the drive

  8. Although not necessarily my number one airport, I’ve found PHL to be a relatively workable hub to transfer at. Pre-pandemic, I used to deliberately route myself through there on my way to onward east coast destinations so I could purposely get on the A330 flights to/from SFO. Even over nonstop options on smaller aircraft.

    It makes sense for AA to restore substantial hub operations at PHL, since it’s a facility they sort “own and control”.

    Agreed regarding single-aisle ops across the Atlantic – not interested in that option.

  9. I’m sure once AA files BK they will end up closing PHL. I refuse to ever give AA another $ again after these last bailouts. While main street was out of work those employees kept their 6 figure salaries. I Wouldn’t be so mad if they had paid down debt vs buying back shares during the good days. I look forward to seeing Mr Parker walking into a federal courthouse.

  10. I don’t read that as XLRs year round on all routes, but XLEs replacing wide bodies off peak. Also the comments that that B6 NEA makes PHL TAL unnecessary is way off as it’s not a revenue sharing agreement, there are routes best served from JFK, but many routes still need to work via connectivity, AA would still prefer that to be on their metal and that will go through PHL. Even with B6 PHL is far better for connecting than the split operations in NYC.

  11. They have CLT for long haul international. Notice where they placed the 777’s versus the 788’s this summer? AA flies a good amount of feed into JFK on their own logo and with B6 it’s just icing on the cake. PHL has decent feed but don’t need any major transatlantic build up to handle it. They believe 321’s will serve whatever TA operations they offer sufficiently. Any extra wide body TA service will go to JFK and CLT.

  12. From a facility standpoint and ease of transit for the passengers, compared to other hubs from the legacy American system PHL is a dump and a place to avoid. It is a strong hold of the old USAir mob, riddled with employee negative attitude and discontent, serious morale issues and nothing more than the second rate operation that USAir has now foisted upon a good many of their European bound passengers.

  13. @TW. It’s a pretty decent, dependable airport, not the best but pretty good. I’ll take it over DFW, CLT, MIA any day.
    Sounds like you haven’t been there since 1986.

  14. We’re stuck since AA doesn’t require its employees be vaccinated and our company won’t allow us to fly them until they do. We’re stuck with United which is fine but they’ll be a lot layovers in ORD

  15. Please add nonstop flight from Philadelphia to Basel, Switzerland by operated A321XLR aircraft. All I want fly to BSL instead. I am not like London-Heathrow. I rather to take nonstop flight from PHL-BSL, not ZRH. Will they ever consider it? I prefer to fly on A321XLR from PHL-BSL.

  16. From the way I read this, it looks like a lot of seasonal flights to Europe from PHL – and those will be shifted to the A321XLR in 2 years – while a more basic European schedule for larger markets will remain. Reading between the lines, AA thinks that they can connect people onto seasonal tourist markets at higher fares via PHL – and they have fewer seats to fill using the A321 versus an A330.

    If it works, it keeps PHL alive as a hub of sorts, if it doesn’t work I see them dismantling it. After all, in the east they already have hubs at DCA, CLT and MIA as well as a focus at JFK. PHL was always somewhat redundant and I was honestly surprised that they chose to kill PIT and keep PHL back when they first acquired US Airways. Then again, AA has a long history of improper utilization of hubs that worked for predecessors – and then killing them after swearing they wouldn’t.

  17. I avoid PHL just like I avoid CLT. The airports themselves aren’t the issue; it’s the crews based there. Legacy USAirways crews are the worst in the industry. Rude, lazy, and entitled. My last trip via CLT involved a CLT-based crew from MIA to CLT and then a Chicago based crew from CLT to ORD. The difference was striking. I’m convinced that USAirways did most of its flight attendant recruiting in Carolina trailer parks.

  18. Angryflier it wasnt AA that killed PIT. That was the old (pre America West merger) US Airways. I do agree that killing the PIT hub and building up PHL was insane. In terms of hub airport design, PHL is laughable at best, PIT would have been an amazing connecting Europe hub

  19. I’m a PHL native that left at 23, never looking or going back there. The city and its corrupt politicians and democratic controlled policies (over 50 years) have driven the city into a rats nest. The airport has done much better but I’m concerned that unless traffic increases to 2019 levels it will eventually evolve into its former self. Visit there often and would hate to see that.

  20. Pit built a new airport and US Airways could not afford the new operating costs. Additionally, originating traffic @ Pit did not support the investment necessary for a hub…thus PHL. Over the years, PHL has had a remarkable transformation and has succeeded as a competitive US hub.

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