United Airlines continues to object against the proposed codeshare agreement between American Airlines and Philippine Airlines (PAL). While United does not object to the codeshare itself, it requests the Department of Transportation (DOT) to defer granting the codeshare approval until United can get the slots it seeks in Manila. At the heart of the issue is a nearly three-year-old complaint about what United believes is unfair treatment in Manila, while PAL benefits.
United raises concerns over Manila slots
United Airlines has highlighted concerns that, for over two years, it has been denied slots at “usable times” at Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport (MNL). However, even more than slots, United has told the DOT it has not received any confirmed infrastructure support on the ground in Manila to conduct operations, even if the requested slots were awarded.
United also raised competitive concerns in the Philippines. It highlights how local airlines have seen their average daily departures grow while foreign airlines, including United, have had their schedules held flat. Since 2019, United has not received the requisite slots to add another daily flight into Manila at the times it has requested.
Though not directly related to the American Airlines and Philippine Airlines codeshare filing, United expressed its concern over the protection of PAL’s slots as it undergoes a restructuring that may see it cut its widebody fleet and network, which could also impact operations to the United States from the Philippines. United also took issue with how, during the arrival time range it requested, PAL has reduced operations from six flights to one, but United has not been awarded any of the other five slots.
In the departure range United requested, it alleges that PAL has downgauged aircraft. United states this implies it is “potentially using smaller aircraft to operate slots at coveted times,” thus protecting its slots that could otherwise be allocated to United. This is a common practice in the industry that other airlines have also utilized.
The American-PAL requested codeshare
American and PAL first filed for approval from the DOT to conduct codeshare operations in March of 2020. United objected soon after, requesting deferred action until its slot and access issues at Manila could be worked out. Last week, American and PAL re-filed with the DOT for approval of the codeshare, telling the DOT it understands that the slot allocation process at MNL awarded United 16 weekly slots at MNL for summer 2022, which it accepted.
American and PAL are looking to start a relatively limited codeshare agreement. American Airlines would put its code on PAL flights between Manila and Honolulu, Guam, and Tokyo, and between Cebu and Tokyo. PAL would put its code on American’s domestic flights from Los Angeles to Atlanta, Denver, Houston, Las Vegas, Miami, New Orleans, Orlando, and Washington D.C.
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Flights between the Philippines and the United States
United Airlines is the only US airline operating nonstop to the Philippines from the United States. United does not fly nonstop from the 48 mainland United States but operates flights from Guam to Manila. Guam is a US territory. It also has plans to run a twice-weekly flight to Palau from Manila next summer. This is in addition to its daily nonstop flight between Guam and Manila.
Delta Air Lines used to operate a flight to Manila via Tokyo. After consolidating its Tokyo hub at Haneda, Delta decided to move its flight to Manila to operate via Seoul. However, Delta axed that route earlier this year, deferring service to Manila to its joint venture partner Korean Air. This left United as the only US airline flying to the Philippines.
The largest airline flying between the United States and the Philippines is PAL. Next summer, the airline has flights scheduled from Cebu to Los Angeles and from Manila to Guam, Honolulu, New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. PAL may shake up its operations as a result of its bankruptcy restructuring.
United has sought to operate a second daily operation between Guam and Manila. Theoretically, United could launch a nonstop flight from the mainland US to the Philippines. This would likely be from its hub at San Francisco International Airport (SFO). The launch of this service would depend on the slots and aircraft availability, though United has not detailed an interest in serving this market. That could change depending on the final bankruptcy restructuring from PAL. If it significantly cuts back to the US, there could be an opening for United.
Nevertheless, American and PAL’s plan to operate one-stop flights via a codeshare agreement between major points in the US and the Philippines remains on hold as United seeks to get its Manila request sorted. The DOT will have the final say, but the agency has historically considered the difficulties US airlines have had in foreign markets and responded accordingly.