After each quarterly earnings call American Airlines leadership gathers with employees for a ‘State of the Airline’ in which Doug Parker opens with an update on the airline and then opens the floor to questions. One of the most popular subjects is route planning – where will American Airlines fly? – and so Vasu Raja, the airline’s senior vice president of network planning, fields many of the questions.
American Will Add New York – Caribbean Flights and Consider More Mexico City
With Southwest Airlines and now JetBlue pulling out of Mexico City, American is going to look at what that means for additional flying of their own. Vasu Raja explained at the employee gathering last week,
It is an opportunity for us but all those guys are pulling out because they’re all losing money at it. So the first thing for us, we’ll look at it and see how things come together in Mexico City but there could indeed be an opportunity and should that happen we’ll absolutely pursue it.
Interestingly in New York one of the things we’ve seen is not only has our international network gotten stronger but our very early morning Caribbean trips, what we call our ‘pre-0900 trips’ which get you to the islands by lunch, have also continued to get stronger. I think you can look forward to us keep growing in that market. We recently added JFK to Georgetown, Guyana there’s a few other things that we want to do that you’ll see in the months ahead.
American Says They’re the Biggest Airline in the DC Area
An employee asked about United’s growth at Washington Dulles and wondered what American would do to respond. Vasu Raja argued that American’s presence in DC is bigger than United’s.
The largest carrier in Washington DC is the one you all work for. We are the biggest carrier in Washington DC. We’re big in the preferred airport which is DCA. We operate more flights per day out of DCA than what our competitors historically operated out of Dulles. And in 2021 after many many years we’ll finish a number of construction projects and we will absolutely have the best product.
Every flight in 2021 will have a first class cabin on it. We’ll upgauge DCA significantly, small RJs to big RJs, big RJs to mainline jets, and that’s long overdue. DC is one of the biggest revenue markets in our system, one of the biggest business travel markets in our system, we’re the biggest airline there but because of the real estate situation in Reagan National we haven’t been able to truly get as big as we’d like to be. That’s around the corner, it is on us, any number of us cannot wait for that day to come and we’ll continue to be big in DC.
Just like I was American’s claim in its earnings call to offer more first class seats out of Chicago than United was suspect (data from Cranky Flier) I count ~ 280 United departures from National and Dulles airports versus 260 American departures from those two airports.
The only thing I can do to wrap my mind around the idea that American is bigger in DC than United – with all of the latter’s international flying from Dulles, as well as use of larger jets, is to call to mind one of the 2000 Presidential debates.
Expect Longer Seasons for Chicago Transatlantic Flights
While Chicago flying drops in winter American is working on extending the length of the Europe seasonal flights they operate from O’Hare. According to Raja,
Chicago has been – and we’ve said in a lot of places – it’s never been a great transpacific hub, it’s a great transatlantic hub for us. In fact next year we will be the largest transatlantic carrier in Chicago. We’ll have more transatlantic destinations [than United] and we’re looking at extending the seasons on some of those because many of them do flying seasonally. We’ve pulled a number of them forward so instead of May starts they’re March starts, We’re also looking at going and taking a number of them and having them fly through the end of the year too instead of stopping in October. before the year is out we’ll be announcing those too.
Chicago for us, especially with the combination of Chicago and Philadelphia we’re able to serve a number of points to Europe which is great for people who live in Chicago and Philadelphia but what it’s really uniquely great for is people all across the Midwest who want to go and take connections to get to those places. We offer more connecting possibilities through those two gateways to Barcelona, Rome, Athens, all of those markets and soon to be Prague and Budapest than what any of our competitors do and that’s an advantage we’re going to keep and we’ll grow.
Philadelphia Will Grow as a North-South Hub
Philadelphia is American’s transatlantic gateway. Their emphasis is connecting passengers through Philadelphia to Europe (rather than serving primarily the local Philadelphia market). Since they’re looking primarily at connections, they like the lower costs of Filthadelphia compared to the New York airports for this.
However they’re viewing an expended role for Philly, connecting passengers North-South so far to Florida. According to Raja,
The majority of our growth next year is in DFW and Charlotte but we’ll see growth across all of our hubs. Every one of our hubs is unique in their own way and we want to go and play to all of the things that make them unique.
Philadelphia does two things for us that really nothing else can do. It’s a great transatlantic gateway for us. We’re able to connect as we like to say it 95% of the country through Philadelphia at 80% of the cost of the New York area airports. So that’s a great thing for Philly, we’ll continue to do that.
The other thing we’ll do more and more of is emphasize Philly as a North-South hub. Already if you look out this winter you’ll see more flights to Florida and bigger airplanes flying to Florida as well which is another unique thing that Philadelphia can do.
Miami Will Get Boeing 787s
American plans to send Boeing 787s beginning late 2020, though that could slip to early 2021. Overall expect American’s growth in the North Atlantic to be around 7% in 2020, consistent with their growth in 2019.