American Airlines announced this past week that they are dropping the ‘Northeast Shuttle’ branding that has a 60 year history. American Airlines is not going to be flying New York LaGuardia – Boston anymore, with those flights instead flown by Northeast Alliance partner JetBlue, and they’ll no longer have a separate brand for their New York – DC – Boston triangle.
The American Airlines Shuttle was the descendent of the Eastern Shuttle, which was sold to Donald Trump in 1989 (“Trump Shuttle”). The product was often known for hourly flights with flexible ticketing policies and open seating – and at one point a guarantee of transportation where Eastern would even bring out a new aircraft to accommodate overflow passengers. The Trump Shuttle failed and banks sold it to US Airways, and it became part of American Airlines when those two carriers merged.
At an employee town hall event at New York LaGuardia on Tuesday, held as this change was being announced, Chief Revenue Officer Vasu Raja explained the decision. He offered that the things that made the Shuttle different were outdated, like newspapers (Covid and the internet), free drinks (changing norms), and rear-door deplaning (changes to airports).
When the shuttle was created, there were a few things we would differentiate. Rear door deplaning, free alcohol on board, newspapers at the gate. Many of those things don’t simply apply anymore.
The reality is business customers stopped day drinking about 25 or 30 years ago. People don’t really take newspapers anymore. And in the pandemic we’ve more or less gotten away from it because most people get that on their phone.
…[New fare type] Main Cabin Select is a lot less about how we go and differentiate the airport, or figure out how we rear door deplane in markets like Boston or LaGuardia, where in the new construction idea we won’t be able to do that in the same way. As our customers evolve we’ve got to evolve too.
I think that Raja misrepresents the core elements of the Shuttle, perhaps because those are mostly long gone – hourly schedules ‘show up and go’ with shorter check-in times and guaranteed availability.
One remnant American had retained was closer-in bag check-in cutoffs for shuttle flights. And free alcohol? Still a nice perk on 5 p.m. – 7 p.m. flights, but a pale reflection of what New York Air brought to the market 40 years ago (‘nosh bags’) with bagels in the morning and sandwiches in the afternoon.
Shuttle flights were no longer really separate from the rest of the operation. They no longer had dedicated fleets. When US Airways added first class to shuttle flights, rather than all coach and open seating, it was about using the same narrowbody aircraft for shuttle as for the rest of their network. Shuttle was already mostly gone, now they’re just making it official.