Los Angeles and Seattle are two of the largest cities on the West Coast of the United States. With American’s already sizable presence at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and its close partnership with Alaska Airlines, which maintains its largest hub at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA), both cities have become West Coast hubs for American Airlines.
Speaking in an exclusive webinar interview with Simple Flying, American’s Chief Revenue Officer, Vasu Raja, discussed the future of each hub’s long-haul international flying.
Limitations for now
The biggest takeaway over the future of long-haul flying is that much of the story is unwritten. Here is what Mr. Raja stated:
“It really remains to be seen, but for all intents and purposes, the biggest wildcard being our West Coast network development is limited not actually by our partnership, the availability of airplanes, or even our imagination. It’s that there’s not very many countries that are to the left of Los Angeles that are willing to go let 300 people per flight deplane into their country right now. And until that changes, that limits what we can do. Until we have a line of sight on how that changes and where that changes, that probably limits how we think about the the build back of the West Coast.”
The same is true for Seattle, given that there are not many Asia-Pacific countries that are open for either leisure or business travelers, it limits what American can fly. In addition, neither LA nor Seattle are great hubs for transatlantic flights, save for some flights to the top business or partner destinations, like London.
The Los Angeles reset
In July 2020, American Airlines announced an international reset. Plenty of routes were cut from the airline’s Los Angeles hub. This included flights to Hong Kong, Buenos Aires, São Paulo, Beijing, and Shanghai – which moved over to Seattle. Other hubs also lost some nonstop service, but this also included the postponement of previously anticipated new long-haul routes, such as Casablanca to Philadelphia.
Los Angeles retained, for the time being, flights to Australia, New Zealand, and Japan. Some of those flights have resumed, others have continued to be pushed back as travel restrictions hamper American’s ability to serve those destinations with paying customers.
International flights will come back
Mr. Raja was clear that international flights would be on the horizon for both Seattle and Los Angeles. As he stated:
“We anticipate that that unlike the Northeast, where we have a range of hubs, which are both great local markets and connecting markets, like New York and Philadelphia, in the West Coast, we envision more that Seattle would be targeted around routes that have a high degree of connectivity, or else really specific things such as India, where the proximity from Seattle just makes it possible to go and serve the mission. LA is is much more of a bigger O&D market – South Pacific, things like that. But we absolutely are going to have an international network out of Los Angeles and an international network out of Seattle.”
Demand and international travel restrictions will determine and where American brings back long-haul flying. Los Angeles has been American’s hub for flights to Australia, and it previously had plans to expand its Los Angeles-Auckland services while adding a new flight connecting Los Angeles to Christchurch. It is hard to imagine any other American hub taking over those routes, especially given the Alaska partnership.
These flights also come against the backdrop of the American-Qantas joint business agreement, which led to these new routes. That partnership and the strong demand that exists for flights to this region are likely to keep Los Angeles a critical point in American’s network, even if it does not see nonstop flights to China or India.
Los Angeles is the nation’s second-largest metropolitan area, so it would be unwise and implausible for American to exit this market’s long-haul flying and reduce its competitive footprint in the market. In addition to the Alaska feed and brand loyalty American can tap into at LAX, there will be opportunities in the future, but it is too early to tell.
American is not ready to abandon Los Angeles, nor is it seeking a limited presence in Seattle. Both hubs will complement each other, especially given the passenger volume American can access in both markets.