American Airlines is still evaluating options to launch flights to Doha, following the firming up of its partnership with Qatar Airways. On May 20th, the two airlines implemented the first stage of their codeshare partnership with further expansion in the coming weeks. However, the oneworld alliance members did not indicate when a new US to Qatar route on American Airlines would open up.
American examining flights to Qatar
Back in February, American announced that it was considering launching flights to Doha. On both ends, American Airlines and Qatar Airways could offer connections giving passengers plenty of opportunities to fly onward to other destinations.
Qatar Airways, in particular, has a strong presence in Southeast Asia, India, and Africa. Meanwhile, American Airlines maintains a significant presence in Latin America. Together, the two airlines would be able to cater to a large number of passengers and fill in gaps in each other’s networks.
When will American launch flights?
It is pretty much guaranteed that American will not launch flights to Doha’s Hamad International Airport this year. New routes scheduled to begin in 2020 have been postponed to 2021. This includes highly anticipated services such as Philadelphia to Casablanca, Chicago to Krakow, Seattle to Bangalore, Dallas to Auckland, and Los Angeles to Christchurch, among others.
If American does go ahead and launch this route, it likely will not be until summer 2021 or later. Launching a new long-haul service takes a lot of careful planning and can come at a high cost to the airline at the start. If demand is not there, then it would make no sense for American to launch flights. However, the fact that there are connections on both ends (thanks to codeshare agreements) could help mitigate any potential losses and fill up a plane. But, before a timeline comes into play, it also matters where American will fly out from.
Where could the airline fly out from?
One of the first steps to launching a new route to Qatar is to figure out where the airline should fly out from. Qatar Airways already operates to several of American’s hubs including Miami, Philadelphia, Dallas, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Qatar also flies to New York-JFK, where American does have extensive operations, but not as much as at other hubs.
If American wants to expand hub access, then there are a few excellent candidates. First, Charlotte is one of American’s most profitable hubs with extensive domestic reach. However, if Qatar Airways wants to expand connections to Latin America, then Charlotte would not be an ideal candidate.
A more wild card city would be Seattle. Alaska Airlines intends to join oneworld, the same alliance that Qatar and American are a part of. Qatar does not operate between Seattle and Doha. However, despite not having its own hub, American has still leveraged Alaska’s status in the city with an announcement of a new route between Seattle and Bengaluru, India. Although, much like Charlotte, it would not give Qatar Airways many new opportunities.
The two most likely cities would be Dallas or Miami. Dallas, in particular, would be a formidable city, given that it is American’s largest hub. Currently, Qatar Airways only operates one daily flight. Although, thanks to an extensive connecting network, American could probably fill another plane– likely a 787– flying between Dallas and Doha.
Miami would be the best city for Latin American connections. From Miami, American has an enviable host of routes to Central and South America. Currently, Qatar has only one daily flight to Miami, which arrives about five or six hours before one of American’s waves to South America. American Airlines could launch another flight that would land in Miami a couple of hours after Qatar’s to shorten connection times.
In terms of expansion, American has preferred its fortress hubs in Miami, Charlotte, and Dallas. Not only does American face little competition from these cities, but the airline also can offer a host of connections allowing plenty of passengers to connect. And, with travel demand where it is, perhaps now is not the time to experiment with a new route from an untested city.
Senior Vice President of Network Strategy at American, Vasu Raja, has guided American’s expansion primarily out of hubs. This is due to the existing infrastructure (such as catering, maintenance, and crew bases), market strength, and the ability to route planes efficiently across an airline’s network. For example, on the new Seattle to Bangalore route, American has to source an aircraft to fly the route. Based on schedules when the route was set to launch this year, American was flying a 787 in from Los Angeles– adding significant capacity on that short-haul route.
Most likely, American will launch this route next year. Or, if demand remains low, then 2022 is not out of the question. A new relationship with Qatar Airways opens plenty of opportunities to grow in markets that American does not currently serve, which makes this partnership very attractive. Thus, it would not be surprising to see American choose to expand with a new Doha route even if other, previously announced routes are delayed further.
When do you think American Airlines will launch flights to Qatar? Let us know in the comments!