American Airlines filed some schedule cuts in New York over the past weekend. This has counteracted some of the narratives around American’s growth in the region due to the Northeast Alliance (NEA) with JetBlue. While the cuts may sting, they are largely centered around short- and medium-haul routes. However, most of these routes will not be losing service entirely due to the JetBlue partnership, but it might be a sign for some interesting moves on the horizon.
American Airlines makes cuts in New York
American Airlines loaded schedule cuts this weekend, as seen on Cirium, the following routes are exiting the schedule from LaGuardia Airport (LGA):
- Portland International Jetport (PWM)
- Philadelphia International Airport (PHL)
- Orlando International Airport (MCO)
- Charleston International Airport (CHS)
- Boston Logan International Airport (BOS)
- Bangor International Airport (BGR)
- Asheville Regional Airport (AVL)
- Traverse City Airport/Cherry Capital Airport (TVC)
- Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport (SAV)
- Pensacola International Airport (PNS)
- Myrtle Beach International Airport (MYR)
- Martha’s Vineyard Airport (MVY)
- Nantucket Memorial Airport (ACK)
From John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), American loaded cuts to the following destinations:
- Toronto Pearson Airport (YYZ)
- Montreal-Trudeau International Airport (YUL)
- Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) in San Jose, Costa Rica
- San Antonio International Airport (SAT)
- Liberia Guanacaste Airport (LIR) in Costa Rica
It also filed some other schedule reductions in other markets, namely smaller ones, reducing the number of daily operations. These included a wide variety of domestic routes, but other domestic routes were bulked up. American offered the following statement on its changes:
“Over the weekend, American optimized its flying schedule to better connect customers with the destinations most important to them. Part of that process resulted in the winding down of a handful of routes, including our dedicated shuttle service. We’re proactively reaching out to customers affected by these changes to offer alternate travel arrangements.”
Why this could be a catalyst for American Airlines to grow
American Airlines and JetBlue have to hit capacity growth targets in the New York area. The current agreement with the US Department of Transportation (DOT) requires the two airlines to be at 105% of combined 2019 seat capacity. This is against a baseline of American and JetBlue’s 2019 combined seat capacity plus JetBlue’s seat capacity at JFK in 2019 and American’s seat capacity at JFK in 2018.
The problem with reaching these targets at American Airlines is doing so with the comparatively limited slots it has available. While it was able to leverage some expanded capacity by moving 50-seaters out of JFK and LGA, at JFK, the story is a little different.
View From the Wing quotes Vasu Raja, American’s Chief Revenue Officer, stating the following at an employee event in New York on its strategy:
“Our bias is almost always if we can fly a widebody there we want to be able to go and do that over flying a narrowbody to Montego Bay since they both consume the same slot.”
American Airlines has something that JetBlue does not have: widebody aircraft. While widebodies have been used on more domestic flights recently, the goal is to put them on long-haul international markets where those planes can earn more for the airline.
To an extent, there is only so much growth American Airlines can do within its existing portfolio of routes at JFK. While it has a portfolio of slots, those slots are distributed throughout the day. While that may matter less on a flight to Raleigh or Miami, it matters a bit more when planning long-haul international flights. For example, airlines typically operate red-eyes to Europe, arriving in the morning, where flights are timed for connections on partners. Several major airports in Europe also have bans on flying in at night, meaning if an airline wants to fly to a place like Frankfurt, it has to operate it as a red-eye to land there.
With slots precious at JFK, American has to make a decision. As the partnership with JetBlue unfolds, the airline has been able to leverage access to more customers in bringing several new long-haul international flights to the market, including New Delhi, India, which has thus far proven successful, and Tel Aviv in Israel.
It could be the case that American Airlines sees internal indications to warrant some new long-haul international flights it has not announced yet. There are plenty of signs that American has seen success in operating new routes under JetBlue, given that it has upgraded some flights to Colombia to larger aircraft in 2022.
There is certainly no lack of opportunities for American. There is certainly room for more routes to Europe. Another highly-speculated route has been a flight from JFK to Tokyo, which only Japanese airlines fly. American’s transpacific partner, Japan Airlines (JAL), does not fly from Narita (NRT) to New York. American could operate the route and leverage onward connections on JAL across East and Southeast Asia.
JetBlue will be key
JetBlue has the planes to do short-haul and medium-haul flying. It has a healthy backlog of Airbus aircraft, including the A220, and has delayed the retirements of some Embraer E190s to support growth under the NEA. The airline can work with American on slot usage at LGA and JFK, so it would not be surprising to see JetBlue pick up some more short-haul flying at either of those airports while American adds some long-haul flying out of JFK.
Save for the two routes to Canada, JetBlue recently inaugurated flights from New York to San Antonio. Separately, JetBlue has scheduled up to three daily flights to LIR and two daily to SJO from JFK next summer, offering more flights than American had scheduled. American will still fly to Toronto and Montreal from LaGuardia. JetBlue also flies to Savannah from LaGuardia and is expected to add Portland to its schedule next year. More routes could follow as the airline gains access to more slots.
With the extensive JetBlue presence at JFK, American Airlines has access to a short- and medium-haul network that acts as a buffer to keep new long-haul international routes afloat. This is on top of the New York originating and terminating customers it gets from its own and JetBlue’s loyal flyers and the connections it can offer through JFK to these new flights.
Essentially, while American has made some cuts, it is not representative of what the airline has in store in New York. The carrier has not finalized its full 2022 plans, but it will likely add new routes and grow frequencies.