Among many of the network movements American Airlines made in 2021, the carrier’s return to Israel was one of the special ones. With two routes in operation and a third planned to launch this year, American Airlines has bet on big on the market as it plans a post-crisis long-haul network that leans on the airline’s hub, network, and partnership strengths. To learn more about the airline’s moves in Israel, Simple Flying spoke with Brian Znotins, Vice President of Network and Schedule Planning at American Airlines.
American Airlines in Israel
Before resuming services in 2021, American Airlines last flew to Israel in early 2016, when it pulled out in early January after underperformance in the market. According to data from Cirium, when service ended, American was flying 258-seat Airbus A330-200s to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport (TLV) from Philadelphia International Airport (PHL). The route was inherited from the merger with US Airways.
After cutting the route, American stopped serving Tel Aviv using its metal and thus no longer offered nonstop service from the US to Israel. Then, in 2019, American Airlines announced a triumphant return to Tel Aviv. The plan was to start flying from the airline’s largest hub at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) to TLV from September 2020 using a Boeing 787-9.
For obvious reasons, American Airlines did not launch the service as planned in 2020. It did, however, start making some other moves that led to service to Israel. Bolstered by the Northeast Alliance (NEA) with JetBlue, American Airlines announced a new nonstop service from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) to TLV in May. Since then, the airline has been operating this route daily using a Boeing 777-200ER.
Then, in June, American Airlines launched a new service from Miami International Airport (MIA) to TLV. Flights operate thrice per week using a Boeing 777-200ER and runs year-round. American Airlines also plans to launch service from DFW to TLV.
How American thought about Israel in 2021
Israel is an interesting market from a demand perspective from the US, as Mr. Znotins explained:
“The Tel Aviv market is very concentrated in the US. It’s one of the most concentrated markets – transatlantic that exists – from the US. So it’s heavily focused on Chicago and New York and San Francisco and LA, and it really aren’t those small markets to Tel Aviv as much.”
Tel Aviv is the main international gateway to Israel. US airlines have typically served Tel Aviv from some of these concentrated gateways like New York, Chicago, and San Francisco, with some other markets that capture some of the connecting and business demand. Given the competition to Israel, American first launched New York to Tel Aviv on the strength of its partnership with JetBlue, but it did so even before it became clear that Israel would reopen for more tourism. However, American sensed an opportunity at the time in the market and decided to stick with it:
“We had the widebodies where the opportunity cost was very low because we really didn’t have anywhere else to fly them. So we thought, ‘Hey, let’s get back into Tel Aviv, take advantage of the vaccination trend there, that Israel is most likely going to open up before anybody else does.'”
That ultimately paid off, and the route has performed on the strength of the visiting friends and relatives (VFR) market out of New York to Tel Aviv. However, Israel has also shown a willingness to shut down travel in the interest of public health, and airlines have to choose how they serve the market. Mr. Znotins described American’s thinking as follows:
“We kind of have to just roll with the punches inthe Tel Aviv market. There have been some weeks that we haven’t been carrying as many passengers as we like, because of restrictions. And if we cut the flight, by the time it gets cut, the restrictions can be lifted and everything’s fine again, and so we just kind of had to say, ‘Okay, this is the market we’re in, we’re gonna stick with it. We’re gonna make the JFK and Miami consistent.'”
Short-term network planning is challenging for long-haul services. It is generally easier to remove a flight or delay it than to bring it back into the schedule. This is because the airline has to ensure it has an aircraft and crew available to operate the flight.
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What about Dallas?
Dallas was the first route American announced in its plans to return to Israel. However, it has yet to launch. This weekend, American delayed its Dallas to Tel Aviv launch to May 6th, 2022. When the service does launch, it will operate thrice-weekly using a Boeing 777-200ER.
Dallas is a little different from the perspective of a market to Israel. While it is American’s largest hub and the airline will benefit from some connections from those smaller markets and a few incremental connections from the larger, concentrated markets, it is relying more on the strength of Christian groups and more tourism-related travel:
“It’s more of…a VFR market out of New York and Miami, but for Dallas, we’re looking at more tourism type activity. And these groups, they have longer booking windows than two months. Even though the restrictions lifted, that might give the green light for some big Christian group to go book to Tel Aviv, but they’re going to do that like 4, 5, or 6 months from now, they’re not going to book that for two months from now. So it makes sense, with our Dallas service, that’s why we kept delaying it at the stars because we need a good long solid booking window for that flight to work.”
While American had expected, back in 2019 and early 2020, to fly to Israel from Dallas first, the crisis upended many plans. It led to a rethinking of several strategies, including how to structure American’s long-haul network to Israel. With new strength in New York and room to try out a route from Miami, American has put together a set of services between the US and Tel Aviv that it believes fits the current demand environment.