American will fly just 4 domestic wide-body routes as it goes all-in on Europe

Dec 12, 2021

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The days of enjoying a lie-flat business-class pod for a short domestic flight are coming to an end — especially if you’re an American Airlines flyer.

Next summer, the Fort Worth-based carrier will deploy just 1.8% of its wide-body block-hours on domestic routes, a record low for the airline. That’s according to Brian Znotins, the airline’s vice president of network planning, who explained to TPG that the airline will instead bulk up its transatlantic network with its largest planes.

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During the peak summer season, American will fly just four domestic routes with wide-body jets, with the full list available below. The wide-body pulldown was confirmed to TPG by a carrier spokesperson.

  • Miami (MIA) — New York-JFK
  • MIA — Charlotte (CLT)
  • MIA — Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW)
  • MIA — Los Angeles (LAX)

Note that this includes the Lower 48, as well as Alaska, but long-haul Hawaii routes will remain operated by wide-body planes, as will those on the airline’s Airbus A321T, including New York to Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Only a handful of frequencies on the aforementioned routes will be operated by a twin-aisle plane, largely during downtime between long-haul flights. For instance, American might fly a 273-seat Boeing 777-200 on a mid-day round-trip between New York and Miami, departing after the plane’s 6 a.m. arrival in JFK from Tel Aviv and well before its 11:55 p.m. departure from New York back to Israel.

Wide-body planes, like the Boeing 777 and 787 Dreamliner, offer a significantly improved inflight experience compared to traditional single-aisle jets you’d otherwise find on domestic routes. If you’re booked in the business-class cabin, you’ll enjoy a lie-flat seat, along with a large TV, oversized tray table and plenty of storage.

Business class on an American Boeing 777-200 (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Those booked in extra-legroom Main Cabin Extra economy seats are usually seated in the premium economy cabin, which is outfitted with spacious recliners that are nearly identical to those you’d find in domestic first class.

Premium economy on American’s Boeing 777-300ER (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Finally, the coach seats on American’s widebodies are all outfitted with personal TVs — a nice touch compared to most of American’s domestic jets that only feature streaming entertainment to your own device.

Last summer, American flew 31.7% of its wide-body block hours in its domestic and short-haul system, a record high for the airline. This included a slew of (surprising) domestic routes, like Boston (BOS) and Las Vegas (LAS) to Miami, as well as short-haul international hops from Miami to cities across Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.

Economy seats on American’s Boeing 777-300ER (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

At the time, long-haul travel was largely off-limits to most Americans, with border closures and other pandemic-related restrictions cutting off these once-lucrative markets.

“It’s almost the exact opposite of what happened last summer where the opportunity cost was so low on the widebodies,” Znotins to TPG. “Europe and Asia weren’t great for us [so] we flew them in JFK and Miami… and tried new things…because the opportunity cost was so low. Now, the opportunity cost is so high. Paris and Rome and Athens are just going to be on fire in the summer of next year.”

Last summer, American’s choice was to either park its widebodies or continue flying them domestically and on shorter-haul flights that didn’t require the range of a wide-body. At the time, especially when payroll was covered by the government, it made sense to deploy them on shorter routes, according to Znotins.

But the calculus is going to be much different next summer.

For one, the airline is short on wide-body planes due to a delay in receiving new Boeing 787-8 Dreamliners from Boeing. The Chicago-based planemaker hit a manufacturing-related snag in its Dreamliner production line that has halted new 787 deliveries to all operators worldwide. Deliveries aren’t slated to resume until April 2022, at the earliest.

At the outset of the pandemic, American retired its Airbus A330 and Boeing 767 fleet, leaving just its Boeing 777s and 787s as the backbone of its long-haul fleet. Between the retirements and the delay in receiving new Dreamliners, the airline has fewer widebodies than it would like for next summer.

After all, the airline (and its competitors) are predicting a surge in transatlantic demand next summer, both from American tourists vacationing abroad and from Europeans coming to the U.S. for a summer holiday.

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

“The demand is going to be so hot to Europe, and we’re only going to fly 80% of our 2019 long-haul capacity this coming summer, which is far below where we’d want to be. And so we just had to get every wide-body we could and point them at these [European] markets,” Znotins told TPG.

While that might be the correct strategic move from Znotin’s network planning department, it certainly stings for anyone who has enjoyed an international flight experience on a far shorter domestic flight.

Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy

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