American Airlines doubles down on Austin with 10 new routes
Austin is hot — and I'm not just talking about the weather.
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.
On Thursday, American Airlines became the latest U.S. carrier to double down on the city, adding 10 year-round and seasonal routes to the fast-growing metropolis.
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The full list of new destinations is below, but highlights include service to Nashville (BNA), Las Vegas (LAS), Raleigh-Durham (RDU) and Washington Dulles (IAD). All four flights will eventually be operated twice daily, marking a big splash for American in its Austin boost.
Interestingly, 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.
Unlike some of the carrier's other leisure-focused network expansions during the pandemic, the Austin announcement is more about a long-term play.
"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 said in an interview with TPG.
More: American CEO Doug Parker tells workers to ‘tear up’ furlough notices after new relief bill
Routes like Nashville and Raleigh will help American appeal to corporate customers traveling for business when that demand (eventually) returns.
But it's not just about business-focused routes. The carrier is also launching three seasonal Saturday-only ones, to Aspen (ASE), Los Cabos (SJD) in Mexico and Destin-Fort Walton Beach (VPS) in Florida. There'll also be year-round service to Tampa (TPA), Orlando (MCO) and other cities.
These destinations have been popular with pandemic-weary travelers seeking outdoor-friendly escapes with plenty of built-in social distancing.
With a healthy mix of routes, American is trying to appeal to flyers based in Austin looking for nonstop service across the country, both for work and for pleasure.
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"Over time, we've seen Austin grow like crazy... There have been more nonstop flights added by other airlines. But we really want to differentiate ourselves for customers flying out of Austin. These nonstop flights will save them time, and we'll offer them the American experience," said Znotins.
Of course, offering nonstop flights is a big advantage for flyers headed to the cities American is adding. Furthermore, Znotins told TPG that the carrier is working with its loyalty and corporate sales teams to boost its Austin presence.
The Austin strategy is coming from the top brass of AA leaders. According to Znotins, "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."
For instance, the Austin Admirals Club at Gate 22 is open, despite the pandemic. American began reopening its lounges in June 2020 after shuttering them all in March. The carrier has since brought 24 clubs back online, including Austin, in another passenger-friendly boost for the city.
Related: The 9 best things to do in Austin
In addition to AA's new, returning and existing Austin flights, the carrier is working closely with its two U.S.-based partners, Alaska and JetBlue, on codeshare routes.
American will add its AA code to four Alaska Airlines routes beginning May 6: AUS to San Diego (SAN); San Francisco (SFO), Portland (PDX) and Seattle (SEA).
American recently kicked off its Northeast alliance with JetBlue, which includes a New York-JFK to AUS codeshare.
AA isn't the first airline to boost flights to Austin recently. Alaska, Allegiant Air, Hawaiian Airlines and JetBlue have all unveiled new routes to the city this year. Additionally, at the recent Raymond James conference, Delta President Glen Hauenstein told investors that the carrier plans to reinstate just two of its five focus cities, with Austin and Raleigh-Durham returning.
Cirium schedules show that Austin is already rebounding from the depths of the pandemic, with 156% more flights in the second quarter of 2021, compared to the same time period in 2020. In fact, the second quarter of 2021 is down only about 10% compared to the highs of the second quarter of 2019, a testament to the market's resilience despite the pandemic.
For now, Znotins isn't ready to call Austin a "focus city," even though it might be starting 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 added.
The new service and codeshare routes will be on sale Monday, March 15, with the full list of new and expanded routes below.
May 6, 1x/day and July 2, 2x/day
May 6, 1x/day and June 3, 2x/day
May 6, 1x/day
|MSY||May 6, 1x/day||Embraer 175|
|RDU||July 2, 1x/day and Aug. 17, 2x/day||Embraer 175|
June 3, 1x/day
Aug. 17, 2x/day
June 5 – Sept. 4 (Saturdays only)
June 5 – Aug. 14 (Seasonal extension; Saturdays only)
June 5 – Aug. 14 (Saturdays only)