Even though the airline industry is busy gearing up for the summer, American Airlines — and its network planning department, in particular — is already looking ahead to the upcoming winter season.
Over the weekend, the Fort Worth-based carrier made a handful of updates to its long-haul network starting in late October, as first seen in Cirium schedules and later confirmed by the carrier.
American plans to drop a notable transatlantic route, resume a long-haul service to New Zealand and upgrade six other international flights to year-round service.
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The shakeup comes just days and weeks after the airline’s key U.S. competitors have also announced updates to their long-haul networks, and in some cases, American’s move can be seen as a competitive response to those new flights.
Here’s the latest.
American cuts all Seattle international flights
American Airlines will cut its nonstop flight from Seattle to London, effective Oct. 27.
The carrier will not fly the 4,801-mile route for the duration of the winter season, and it’s too early to tell if American will bring back the flight next summer.
(For now, the airline’s plan is indeed to bring back the route on March 30, 2024, but a lot can change before then.)
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Without the London service, American will not fly any international routes from Seattle during the winter — a big blow to the carrier’s strategy in the Pacific Northwest and to the local Seattle market.
Just before the pandemic, American announced plans to shift some of its international focus from its hub in the incredibly competitive Los Angeles market to Seattle, where it hoped to establish a strategic presence in partnership with Alaska Airlines to boost international connectivity.
Alaska planned to provide domestic feed to fill American’s new Seattle flights, which included routes to London, Shanghai and Bangalore.
Of course, the pandemic hit just weeks later, indefinitely suspending American’s plans to launch service from Seattle to China and India.
The airline eventually inaugurated the London flight in March 2021, and it’s been flown consistently since then.
That said, the flight seemingly may not performing as to American hoped, as it’ll get cut during the winter season — a time when business travel historically picks up.
However, it also comes as the Seattle business market — buoyed by tech companies such as Amazon and Microsoft — is facing challenging economic conditions, leading to tightened budgets, especially for travel.
In fact, American’s Oneworld alliance partner Alaska Airlines just reported a bleak assessment of the business travel recovery in its hometown Seattle market. The company said that travel volume among the tech sector has fallen by half, but it stopped short of providing more specific numbers.
While Seattle may not be as hot of a market as American’s would’ve hoped, London isn’t much better for U.S. airlines.
Talking about United’s long-haul markets, chief commercial officer Andrew Nocella told investors during the company’s first-quarter earnings call that his carrier’s flights to London are among the worst performers.
“I will say that London Heathrow is probably our weakest at this point because there is just – that there is a large amount of capacity in London Heathrow relative to the rest of the world,” Nocella said.
With so much capacity in the market — United, for instance, is flying 23 daily flights from the U.S. to London this year — the yields that American had estimated from Seattle may not be materializing.
“As part of a continuous evaluation of our network, American Airlines has made the difficult decision to suspend service between Seattle and London-Heathrow this winter. American will continue to offer 22 daily nonstop flights between the United States and London-Heathrow this winter. We’re proactively reaching out to affected customers to offer alternate travel arrangements,” American shared in a statement.
Without long-haul flights from Seattle, it’ll be interesting to see what happens to American’s West Coast network strategy. Will the carrier boost its Los Angeles hub once again, wait for Seattle to recover, or do something else entirely?
Only time will tell.
American to resume LAX-to-Auckland route
Beginning on Dec. 21, American will resume its nonstop flight from Los Angeles to Auckland, New Zealand.
The airline will operate the 6,504-mile route on a daily basis from Dec. 21 through Feb. 14, 2024, and on a three-times-weekly basis from Feb. 14, 2024, through March 3, 2024. American will deploy the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner on this route.
American has historically served Auckland from Los Angeles, but last year, the carrier moved the route to its Dallas/Fort Worth hub, leaving L.A. unconnected from New Zealand in American’s network.
While that may have been last year’s plan, the competitive dynamics have clearly shifted in the months since.
Both Delta and United since announced plans to start flying from L.A. to Auckland, and American seemingly felt left out.
Instead of letting its competitors pick up the slack, American will reenter the market during the North Hemisphere winter season. In fact, American is marketing this adjustment as being great for connecting passengers, as it shared in the following statement.
“As customers begin to plan their winter vacations, American Airlines is pleased to announce the return of service between Los Angeles and Auckland starting this December. Complementing daily service between Dallas/Fort Worth and Auckland, American will offer up to two daily flights from Auckland this winter, giving customers more flexibility with one-stop connections to over 200 destinations across our global network,” American’s statement reads.
6 long-haul routes get a big upgrade
While the focus may be on the two aforementioned routes, American just made some big adjustments to six other long-haul flights.
Specifically, the following six routes will now be flown on a year-round basis. Previously, the airline was only planning summer seasonal service in these markets. (Philadelphia to Rome was originally scheduled for less-than-daily service in the winter, but it’ll now be operated each day from October 2023 through March 2024.)
Cities like Barcelona, Dublin and Lisbon have long been popular in the summer, but the airline seems to think that will hold up during the winter as well.
That could come from pent-up demand from flyers who couldn’t travel during the pandemic or from those with new flexible work arrangements who can now enjoy the freedom of working remotely from anywhere.
Now, let’s just hope the airline receives all of its factory-fresh Dreamliners in time for this expansion.