American Airlines is pausing its flights to their sole Australian destination, Sydney. This follows news American Airlines flights were operating to Sydney minus passengers owing to stringent Australian Government limits on inbound arrival numbers.
A two-month pause on American’s Sydney flights
According to a report by Executive Traveller on Monday, American Airlines is suspending its Sydney services across September and October. Executive Traveller cites a Monday update to American’s schedule on travel agent booking systems.
American Airlines currently flies a daily Boeing 787-9 between Los Angeles (LAX) and Sydney (SYD). The outbound service is AA73. The return flight is AA72. Along with Delta Air Lines and United Airlines, American Airlines had been one of the stayers on flights between the United States and Australia.
In a statement to Simple Flying, an American Airlines spokesperson refined the impacted travel dates. American’s Brian Metham said;
“Due to the ongoing travel restrictions surrounding the coronavirus, American is suspending customer and cargo flights between Los Angeles and Sydney between September 1 and October 28.”
American’s mixed Sydney history
The big question is whether this two-month pause will turn into a longer-term absence. With Sydney temporarily out of the schedule, the South West Pacific becomes a gap in American’s network. Before the travel downturn, American Airlines had ambitious expansion plans in the region. The airline was planning year-round flights to Auckland (AKL) and seasonal services to Christchurch (CHC).
For industry observers, Monday’s news is not surprising. The airline has a mixed history of flying into Australia. In the early 1970s, American Airlines sent Boeing 707s down to Sydney for five years. American Airlines exited Australia in 1975 following a route swap with Pan Am. Between 1983 and 1984, American Airlines briefly resumed its Australian flights after an ill-fated Northwest Airlines venture into the southwest Pacific failed. Between 1990 and 1992, the Dallas-based airline was back, flying into Sydney via HNL using Douglas DC-10 trijets.
In 2015, American Airlines again resumed flights into Sydney, harnessing a joint venture agreement with oneworld buddy Qantas. Until the 2020 travel downturn, these flights were going quite well. Loads were high, and revenues were good.
In late 2019, American Airlines renewed its joint venture with Qantas amid high hopes the deal would continue to benefit both airlines. Events took a turn for the worse in March 2020. As long-haul passenger demand slumped, Australia slammed shut its borders. In July 2020, American suspended its flights. But by November, American was back. Given the tight controls Australia imposed on who could enter the country and resulting light passenger loads across all airlines, American Airlines made a noteworthy decision.
You can’t fault American Airlines for stepping back from Sydney
Healthy demand for cargo carriage on transpacific flights helped American Airlines make that decision. Revenue from cargo helped make up for the lack of passenger revenue. With 14 plus hours of flying time down to Sydney, it costs American Airlines hundreds of thousands of dollars to operate each AA72/73 service.
Earlier this month, Australia further reduced the number of passengers airlines were allowed to fly into Australia. Last week, American Airlines told The Sydney Morning Herald they would have 20 empty Australia-bound flights over the next two months.
“On certain days in July and August, the Australian government has advised that we’re not able to transport customers on the route due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic,” the spokeswoman told the newspaper.
The report also said American Airlines was not accepting any new bookings to Sydney on AA metal until early 2022. On the flights American Airlines was allowed to fly passengers to Sydney on, they are now limited to around two dozen passengers.
In this environment, American’s decision to step back from the Australian market is hardly surprising. American’s passenger configured Dreamliners can only fly so much cargo in their belly holds. Whether this flight pause lasts only two months or transforms into something more permanent is an open-ended question.