American expands in Austin once again, adds 2 new routes, more flights
It might not be too much longer until Austin officially becomes a focus city for American Airlines.
American filed two new, year-round routes from the Texas capital in this week’s schedule adjustment, along with expanded service to two existing destinations. The changes were first seen in Cirium schedules and later confirmed to TPG by the airline.
Beginning on Dec. 16, American will add once-daily flights from Austin (AUS) to Denver (DEN), followed after the winter holidays on Jan. 4, 2022 with daily service to Albuquerque (ABQ).
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American will serve Denver with a 128-seat Airbus A319, while American Eagle regional affiliate Envoy Air will operate the service to New Mexico aboard a 76-seat Embraer 175.
The Austin-Denver route is hotly contested, with multiple daily flights on Frontier, Southwest and United. In fact, American had previously planned to operate the route for just a few weeks during the holiday season, but now it'll be flown year-round.
In the Albuquerque market, American will face off against Southwest's daily service, along with Allegiant's (up to) twice-weekly flights.
Along with the two new routes, the airline will also boost service to Aspen (ASE). First announced in March, American’s Austin-Aspen service was originally slated to operate on Saturdays in the summer. It has since been extended for the peak winter periods over the Christmas holiday, along with Saturdays in January and February.
Now, the airline will add daily flights there from March 3 through April 4.
Another existing Austin route getting an extension is the capital-to-capital service to Washington/Dulles. At the time of the announcement, American was planning to serve Dulles with twice-daily flights through March 2022. Now, service will continue through the end of the schedule in October 2022, but the frequency is getting downgraded to once daily.
When first announcing the Washington D.C. route, Brian Znotins, American’s vice president of network planning, told TPG that American would prefer to fly from Austin to its Washington National (DCA) hub, but due to the perimeter rule there, the carrier is forced to serve the farther-from-downtown Dulles airport.
American’s Austin expansion is the latest in a series of boosts for the Texas capital. The city has recently seen a sharp and significant expansion in air service, both in the years leading up to the pandemic and in 2021.
During the pandemic, American made a big play for the Austin market, with two major tranches of network expansions there. It started in March when the carrier doubled down on the city with 10 new routes.
Three months later, American followed up with 14 more new routes there, including a mix of domestic and international destinations to cities in Mexico, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic.
Altogether, the carrier has added a mix of both business- and leisure-focused routes in a long-term play for capitalizing on the growth the city has seen from major companies moving (or expanding) there. American wants to position itself as the carrier of choice for locals, regardless of whether you’re traveling for work or for pleasure.
“We were thinking about this move pre-pandemic. All the elements of the pandemic came together to help us launch service now. But we are certainly thinking long-term here. We are at the front-end of our growth in Austin,” Znotins recently told TPG.
The Austin strategy is coming from the top brass of AA leaders. “American’s chief revenue officer Vasu Raja has communicated very strongly that we need to have a coordinated approach on all the elements a passenger will value,” Znotins added.
American isn’t the first airline to boost flights to Austin recently. Alaska, Allegiant Air, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue and Southwest have all unveiled new routes to the city this year. Additionally, Delta plans to reinstate just two of its five focus cities post-pandemic, with Austin and Raleigh-Durham returning.
When asked in March, Znotins wasn’t ready to call Austin a “focus city,” even though it has started to resemble one.
“Austin has long been a connecting market for business travelers [who instead passed through Dallas or Houston]. If we went and started over, you probably would see a big hub in Austin. The city has basically grown under the radar,” Znotins admitted at the time.
It'll be interesting to follow how American’s Austin strategy evolves, but if the growth continues, it might only be a matter of time until Austin officially becomes a “focus city.”