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American drops 19 long-haul routes; cuts in LAX, adds in Seattle

July 01, 2020
13 min read
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Los Angeles is down. Dallas Fort/Worth and Seattle are up. And American Airlines’ first-ever service to Africa will have to wait.

Those are among the takeaways from an updated plan for long-haul international service revealed by American on Wednesday that will see the airline slash long-haul flying in Los Angeles, add a new Asia route from Seattle and cut six international cities from its route map.

“COVID-19 has forced us to reevaluate our network,” Vasu Raja, American’s chief revenue officer, said in a statement.

He added that the carrier is “using this opportunity to hit reset and create a network using the strength of our strategic hubs."

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The changes come as American and other U.S. carriers slash flights and adjust their schedules amid a historic drop in air travel triggered by the emergence of the coronavirus.

Passenger numbers have ticked up during the past two months after falling by 96% in April, but that’s been led mostly by domestic travel. International travel has been hampered both by flyers’ fears and by travel restrictions imposed by countries around the globe.

The slower return of international travel also is true at American, where Brian Znotins – the carrier’s vice president of network planning – told TPG that “long haul international demand has been reset and we won't recover to 2019 levels probably for 2 to 4 years.”

The shake-up to American’s international long-haul route map previews what will be a smaller airline following the pandemic, particularly in regard to long-haul flying. American says it expects summer capacity on such routes to drop by 25% for 2021 as compared to the period in 2019.

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More: These are the only long-haul international routes AA, Delta, Hawaiian and United plan to fly in July

American cuts 19 international routes, holds off on Africa

American's Wednesday announcement detailed where many of those long-haul cuts will come.

The carrier will discontinue 19 long-haul international routes, including five from Los Angeles (LAX) and four each from both Philadelphia (PHL) and Chicago O’Hare (ORD). (Scroll down for the full list.)

Six international destinations that had been on the airline’s summer schedule for this year will be cut altogether, including Casablanca, Morocco. Seasonal nonstop service from Philadelphia – which would have given American it’s first-ever route to Africa – was originally scheduled to begin in June, but now has been scrapped.

TPG archives: Why American is headed to Africa, adding more Eastern Europe, and returning to Tel Aviv

Other long-haul destinations being dropped by American include four in Europe – Berlin (TXL); Budapest, Hungary (BUD); Dubrovnik, Croatia (DVB) and Krakow, Poland (KRK) – and one in South America: Brasilia, Brazil (BSB).

Similar to Casablanca, the Krakow route – which would have flown from American’s hub at Chicago O’Hare – was canceled before American flew its first flight between the cities.

That’s a sign of the times, Znotins said in reference to routes to “secondary or even tertiary” destinations like Casablanca, Dubrovnik, Budapest and Krakow.

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“When the overall tide goes down, those make the least sense because they can still be offered with connections in our partner hubs,” he said. “We can maintain service to Madrid or to London and still have plenty of connections to these smaller points."

“Obviously we'd love to be serving them nonstop, but that's not where the demand is right now,” he added.

As for Brasilia, a city American has long served from Miami, Znotins said the route had been operating at a loss.

More: American Airlines flies first nonstop flight from US to Croatia in 28 Years

Los Angeles losing some long-haul

Also hit hard is Los Angeles (LAX), where American will end a large chunk of its international long-haul flying. That includes three routes to Asia and two to South America. (Scroll down for the full list.)

Four long-haul routes will remain for American at LAX: Auckland, New Zealand (AKL); London Heathrow (LHR); Sydney, Australia (SYD); and Tokyo Haneda (HND).

But beyond those, American said its LAX focus would now be “on the hub’s domestic growth.”

TPG analysis: Coronavirus: American Airlines could drop ambition of Los Angeles gateway to Asia

With the LAX cuts, American will end two routes from the hub to Asia – Beijing (PEK) and Hong Kong (HKG) – and two to South America: Buenos Aires (EZE) and Sao Paulo (GRU).

American hopes to move a fifth long-haul route – to Shanghai – from Los Angeles to Seattle (SEA), where it will press ahead with its own international service plans as part of a renewed partnership with hometown carrier Alaska Airlines.

The international routes, Znotins said, were already losing money even before coronavirus upended the industry.

“Our domestic networks does reasonably well from L.A., so we'll maintain that," he said. “It's just these long-haul Asian and Latin American routes that were a huge drag on (profitability) for us. It was time to cut them loose.”

TPG's Edward Russell hinted at that possibility in early February, writing that American's gateway to Asia could become a casualty of coronavirus-related cuts.

As of 2019: The 10 longest (and 10 shortest) American Airlines flights

American adds a third overseas flight from Seattle

American stunned aviation observers in February when it announced nonstop service from Seattle to both Bangalore, India, and London Heathrow.

Seattle is not a hub for American, and nor did the carrier have an unusually large presence there. But the two high-profile international routes were announced in conjunction with news that American would deepen its ties with Alaska, which also said it would join the Oneworld frequent-flyer alliance that includes American.

The partnership would see Seattle-based Alaska Airlines help feed connecting passengers to American’s new overseas routes from Seattle, where Alaska is the biggest carrier.

There had been some speculation about whether American would keep its international plans for Seattle – especially the Bangalore flight – amid the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. But now American confirmed it intends not only to move ahead, but expand its plans for Seattle.

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Regulators still must approve American’s plans to move its Shanghai service from LAX to Seattle. If they do, though, it would become American’s third long-haul route from Seattle.

“As we're moving away from L.A. as an Asian gateway, we have our new partnership with Alaska and Seattle, which has even a better geography than L.A. does,” Znotins said, adding that American believes business demand to Shanghai "will snap back fairly quickly” once coronavirus concerns ease.

As for attempting to shift the route to Seattle, he pointed not only the feed from Alaska Airlines, but also to a less-crowded marketplace than what American encountered in Los Angeles.

“Every Asian carrier feels like they need to serve L.A., so it's historically been a very overserved market,” Znotins told TPG.

“We think that [flying from Seattle] makes much more sense than being one of many in L.A. to Shanghai or L.A. to Asia,” he said.

Related: American says goodbye to shortest domestic route crown with new flexibility to drop cities

Is American taking on Delta in Seattle?

American's move to add Shanghai service from Seattle likely would put it into direct competition with Delta Air Lines.

Delta offered its own nonstop service between Seattle and Shanghai until it was suspended earlier this year as the coronavirus pandemic emerged. Delta has since resumed flights, though it currently is operating with a stop in Seoul, South Korea (ICN).

When American's partnership with Alaska was announced in February, it put a spotlight on the rivalry between hometown carrier Alaska Airlines and Delta, which built its own hub in Seattle after first growing there in a partnership with Alaska that mirror's American's current pact with Alaska. The Delta-Alaska partnership had been a strong one, but eventually frayed as Delta began to battle its one-time partner on an increasing number of routes in Alaska's backyard. One local media outlet even went so far as to call the former partners "frenemies" before the airlines officially broke up in 2016.

More: American ends service to Oakland, is first US airline to permanently drop a city after coronavirus

Despite that history, American's Znontins downplayed any budding rivalry with Delta over Seattle.

"Other carriers will make whatever decisions they make, but we're striving to make the best schedules — both on a connecting and a local basis — for folks in the Pacific Northwest," he said when asked about competing with Delta there.

Asked if some might view Shanghai it as a "shot across the bow" as American tries to establish its own presence at a Delta hub, Znontins suggested otherwise.

"In my experience, shots across the bow are very expensive," he said in response. "We just want to build the best schedules and generate profitability in the long run. We believe that the best schedules will win at the end of the day, and that's what we're striving to do in Seattle."

Related: American says goodbye to shortest domestic route crown with new flexibility to drop cities

DFW is now American’s ‘trans-Pacific gateway’; Philly still focus for Europe

With American cutting its long-haul offerings from LAX by more than half, the carrier says that its Dallas/Fort Worth hub will become its “major trans-Pacific hub.”

“Maintaining our Asian services from Dallas is just a much more economical approach than it is in the highly competed and overserved L.A. [market],” Znotins said. “It doesn't have the greatest geography. But with our partner, Alaska in Seattle, we can overcome some of that as we add destinations there. But [DFW] does have a lot of high-yielding, local demand and great connectivity to the U.S. Southeast and Latin America that will still be able to offer.”

Meanwhile, Philadelphia will remain American’s main hub for passengers connecting to transatlantic destinations, just as it had been prior to the pandemic.

Related: American CEO expects major US airlines to survive pandemic

“That will continue to be our primary connecting gateway,” Znotins said of transatlantic service from Philadelphia. “For routes that have a high local demand out of New York, we'll, we'll offer routes out of JFK.”

Scroll down to see the full schedule details that were included in American's long-haul service announcement on Wednesday.

Speaking of Philly: American hub, discounter growth push Philadelphia airport toward record year.

Cities American will no longer serve

Berlin (TXL): Service had been seasonal.

Brasilia, Brazil (BSB): Service had been year-round.

Budapest, Hungary (BUD): Service from Chicago O’Hare was supposed to have launched in 2020, but has been canceled.

Casablanca, Morocco (CMN): Service from Philadelphia was supposed to have launched in 2020, but has been canceled.

Dubrovnik, Croatia (DBV): Service had been seasonal.

Krakow, Poland (KRK): Service from Chicago O’Hare was supposed to have launched in 2020, but has been canceled.

More: American Airlines leads shift to smaller jets for flights still flying in US

Dropped long-haul international routes (by hub)*

Charlotte (CLT)

Barcelona (BCN)

Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG)

Rome (FCO)

Chicago O’Hare (ORD)

Budapest (BUD)

Krakow (KRK)

Prague (PRG)

Venice (VCE)

Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW)

Munich (MUC)

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Los Angeles (LAX)

Beijing (PEK)

Buenos Aires (EZE)

Hong Kong (HKG)

Sao Paulo (GRU)

Shanghai (PVG); shifting to Seattle, pending regulatory approval

Miami (MIA)

Brasilia, Brazil (BSB)

Milan (MXP)

Philadelphia (PHL)

Berlin (TXL)

Budapest (BUD)

Casablanca (CMN)

Dubrovnik (DBV)

* = Only includes routes not previously announced.

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Returning long-haul international routes (by hub/focus city)*

Charlotte (CLT)

Frankfurt (FRA): Resumes summer 2021

London (LHR): Resumes winter 2020

Munich (MUC): Resumes winter 2020

Chicago O’Hare (ORD)

Barcelona (BCN): Resumes summer 2021

Dublin (DUB): Resumes summer 2021

Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG): Resumes summer 2021

Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW)

Buenos Aires (EZE): Resumes winter 2020

Lima (LIM): Resumes winter 2020

Rome (FCO): Resumes summer 2021

Santiago, Chile (SCL): Resumes summer 2021

Sao Paulo (GRU): Resumes winter 2020

Tel Aviv (TLV): Service now launches winter 2021

More: American and Delta were the world’s largest airlines in 2019

Los Angeles (LAX)

Auckland (AKL): Resumes winter 2021

London Heathrow (LHR): Resumes winter 2020

Sydney, Australia (SYD): Resumes winter 2021

New York JFK

Barcelona (BCN): Resumes winter 2021

Buenos Aires (EZE): Resumes winter 2020

Madrid (MAD): Resumes summer 2021

Milan (MXP): Resumes summer 2021

Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG): Resumes winter 2020

Rio de Janiero (GIG): Resumes winter 2021

Sao Paulo (GRU): Resumes winter 2020

Miami (MIA)

Madrid (MAD): Resumes summer 2021

Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG): Resumes summer 2021

Rio de Janiero (GIG): Resumes winter 2020

Santiago, Chile (SCL): Resumes Aug. 5, 2020

Sao Paulo (GRU): Resumes Aug. 6, 2020

Philadelphia (PHL)

Amsterdam (AMS): Resumes winter 2020

Dublin (DUB): Resumes winter 2020

London Heathrow (LHR): Resumes winter 2020

Madrid (MAD): Resumes winter 2020

Manchester, England (MAN): Resumes summer 2021

Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG): Resumes summer 2021

Rome (FCO): Resumes summer 2021

Zurich (ZRH): Resumes summer 2021

Phoenix (PHX)

London Heathrow (LHR): Resumes winter 2020

Raleigh/Durham (RDU)

London Heathrow (LHR): Resumes winter 2020

Seattle (SEA)

Bangalore, India (BLR): Service now launches winter 2021

London Heathrow (LHR): Service now launches summer 2021

Shanghai (PVG): Launch date TBD; route moving from Los Angeles, pending regulatory approval

* = Only includes routes not previously announced.

Featured image by GC Images