Who Will Be Connecting More On The New American?

@GlobeTrotScott Tweeted part of a newsletter American sent out to their employees recently.

It’s titled “Hub Rollcall,” and explains how “each hub plays to a particular strength in our network.”

American-Airlines-Business-Class-777-62

How they describe each hub says a lot about what we can expect going forward:

Charlotte/CLT: Provides customers with domestic connections and access along the East Coast; well-suited to serve international destinations that complement oneworld and AJB partners’ networks

Washington National/DCA: Supplies nonstop feed to all of American’s seven international gateways and operates regular flights daily to major hubs connecting important markets from the nation’s capital

Dallas Ft. Worth/DFW: Provides good feed for East and West Coast customers via its central location and service as a global gateway to Asia, Europe and our network in Latin America

New York/NYC: A destination in itself that connects the largest air travel market in the U.S. to our international network, with an emphasis on Europe via JFK and domestic network via LGA

Los Angeles/LAX: The second largest air travel market in the U.S. and continues to be strengthened with markets that match domestic and international demand from customers in Southern California

Miami/MIA: Placed perfectly to access Mexico, Caribbean and other Latin American markets, and a growing trans-Atlantic and domestic gateway; connects traffic from our oneworld and AJB partners

Chicago/ORD: A key business market that provides connecting customers a central location to access service to all points in the U.S., Europe and Asia

Philadelphia/PHL: A domestic and international gateway serving destinations to support our domestic and international network, as well as our oneworld and AJB partners

Phoenix/PHX: Connects customers from coast to coast and to leisure destinations in North America

I think American is being incredibly honest with the above descriptions, which says a lot. From my perspective:

  • Charlotte will primarily be a domestic hub and probably continue to lose international service, which will likely be transferred over to Miami instead, allowing more connections to Latin America
  • Washington is all about origin & destination traffic, as it’s a big enough (and profitable enough) market to sustain service
  • Dallas will continue to be the center of American’s route network, and we’ll continue to see international expansion there, especially to Asia
  • New York is a huge origin & destination market, and will likely see less connecting traffic, which will instead go through Philadelphia (which is operationally a more reliable airport)
  • Los Angeles is a confusing market for American, and they don’t really know what they want — they should be focusing mostly on serving the local market, though they’re unnecessarily trying to add service from there to markets in which they simply can’t compete (ie Atlanta)
  • Miami, after Dallas, is probably the second “strongest” part of American’s network, given their strength in Latin America
  • Chicago probably won’t see much change — I wouldn’t expect much growth, but I also wouldn’t expect it to lose much traffic
  • Philadelphia will likely become the premium east coast hub for international travel, as it’s a much more reliable airport than JFK to route people through

And that leaves us with Phoenix, which will be to American as Cleveland was to United. It’s pretty telling that American isn’t even trying to pretend that Phoenix has a future at the “new American.”

American-Phoenix-Hub

Does anyone have a different read on things?

Comments

  1. Phoenix is a huge tourist destination, while Cleveland is not. Yes, it’s a US Airways hub, but at the same time there is plenty of demand as a destination. Would they really want to cede the whole thing to Southwest (who would basically be the only large player there)?

  2. It will be years, not months before Phoenix or any connecting hub is at risk. The political climate of this merger won’t allow that right off the bat. Whoever wrote / approved this wasn’t at any senior level. Reading too much into it.

  3. Lucky,

    Ual has sfo as their international gateway on the west coast and detla has Seattle. I remember you commented lax is too congested for anyone to build an reliable hub for international traffic. Does this mean the situation on the west coast will remain unchanged for the new American?

  4. Phoenix is going to be fine. If Denver could survive the United/Continental merger which created a similar situation, if not worse (two hubs in CA where SFO for UA has more flights than AA has in all of CA, a massive DFW sized hub in Houston, an ORD operation twice the size of AA’s ORD hub, EWR, and IAD), PHX shouldn’t have much to worry about.

    PHX has way more O&D than Denver, a similar amount of local business activity, and similarly sized WN presence at this point. Yes DEN is better positioned than PHX for connections, but not drastically so. LAX is an expensive place and difficult place to expand and probably couldn’t absorb a lot of the traffic that currently routes through PHX. PHX is a much bigger city than CLE, CVG, or STL.

    The thing is, as airlines get bigger and bigger, they are going to need more hubs to maintain operations. Sure there is some downsizing, but there are still a lot of people moving through PHX every day and they aren’t just going to disappear. I’m not saying there won’t be cuts, but PHX is still going to remain a hub for AA.

  5. I agree with Lucky that Phoenix is in trouble. Phoenix is not the affluent robust city Denver is. PHX may be a lesiure destination as noted above but that cant sustain a hub, especially in a market which is only a lesiure destination for 6 months out of the year (there is a reason Lucky finds incredible rates at 5 star hotels in Arizona in July). Maybe this document isnt final but the rest of it seems pretty accurate.

  6. @Ben, I actually have no idea what they’re trying to say about National. “Supplies nonstop feed to all of American’s seven international gateways” and “regular flights daily to major hubs.” So what they’re saying is you can get to all of AA’s other hubs from National, which… big whoop? You can fly to all of AA/US’ hubs from BOS, too, but that doesn’t make BOS an AA hub…

    I didn’t read anything in there about O&D traffic or about service to non-hub cities from DCA. How are you gleaning your optimistic take on that?

  7. @ Fan — That’s my fear. If American wanted to put resources into Phoenix I think they could make something of it, but it’s just not a priority. I think a more likely scenario is a stronger partnership with Alaska and potentially some increases in Seattle long term as well. But I don’t think that will happen anytime soon.

  8. @ Everybody Hates A Tourist — Not sure how you define “huge tourist destination,” though I’m not sure I really buy that with Phoenix. And keep in mind that the leisure traffic really isn’t that profitable for the most part, at least for a legacy carrier.

  9. @ Nick — Well DCA is heavily restricted in terms of the routes they can operate. At the end of the day no airline is running a truly extensive route network out of DCA, and if anything the combined American and US Airways actually already has the best network out of there. It’s a profitable market, they have no reason to cut it down. But they’re also limited in terms of growth given slot restrictions there.

  10. @Ben, given DCA’s inherent limits, do you see AA encroaching on Dulles if UA phases its hub out there? I’m already surprised at the number of daily nonstops from LAX-IAD on AA, which was never a player before. It would be nice to see some real competition at IAD! And would be interesting to see a DCA-IAD hub similar to AA’s (and DL’s) LGA-JFK hub.

  11. -To clarify the above I guess I should amend to say I’m more curious about what might happen if UA de-hubs or de-emphasizes IAD any more, which may not be necessarily that germane to this topic. With PHL, IAD might be too close to create a real domestic or international hub for AA, but it would seem geographically ripe for DL’s picking…

  12. LAX is a difficult market: overcrowded, constrained, and mostly unprofitable given low yields domestically and to Asia. Yet, Transcon traffic to/from LAX is s big winner for AA, which is determined to win there. I am pretty sure the company will keep growing there – they wouldn’t let LAX fall into DL hands after what happened at LGA (as a matter of pride, if anything). Also, from a local market standpoint LAX is much bigger than SFO and SEA, but the airport is severely capacity constrained and so growth opportunities, for now, are limited.

  13. Sorry, I don’t see PHX going anywhere unless AA wants to ignore the amount of O&D traffic from smaller west coast cities. There’s no other suitable hub currently in their system to take most of the traffic at PHX as you can’t expand enough at LAX and using DFW is going to create unrealistic routings (LAX-DFW-ABQ), plus in the summer season it can have major operational issues itself so adding roughly 100+ daily flights isn’t going to be realistic.

    I find it interesting in the same posting you talk about using PHL as a connection point because of it’s better operational reliability but ignore that situation with PHX is the same for the west coast, granted with less O&D traffic than PHL.

    On a more selfish note, a de-hubbing in PHX means it’s no longer a 1 hop between OMA and SBA or most of the smaller destination airports in the west.

  14. @lucky Perhaps not year round, but for at least half the year it is. Those resorts that have huge discounts in July? They’re packed full in the fall/winter/spring. Maybe it’s not your style (nor is it mine), but the Phoenix/Scottsdale area has some of the best golf & spa resorts in the world. There’s also the Grand Canyon (which of course some people access from Las Vegas, but still). While PHX itself might not be a year round destination, the Grand Canyon is.

    Another factor that I imagine airlines consider about their hubs is on-time performance. PHX consistently has some of the best on-time performance, not just in the country but in the world.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2013/07/16/an-interactive-map-of-the-worlds-best-and-worst-airports-for-flight-delays/

    It’s entirely possible that PHX will be phased out as a hub, but I wouldn’t be quite so quick to dismiss it. It’s still a huge metropolitan area, and those people will want to fly out somewhere, especially during the hot summers.

    I’d be interested in seeing data about what percentage of passengers in an airport are connecting, vs. it being their departure point or destination. Anyone happen to have that? I tried searching and came up empty.

  15. As a resident, I wouldn’t expect any major changes to the status quo at PHX for some time. I don’t expect domestic options to become markedly worse, nor do I expect improvement in direct international travel. PHX might not be strategically important in the new AA, but does have the advantage of a well-run airport (considerable upgrades in the works), expected population gain of ~1 milion people over the next decade, almost zero weather delays, and a city which is near-and-dear to the CEO. Should AA choose to reduce routes, there will be plenty of carriers to step in and fill the vacuum.

  16. Interesting, they characterize LAX as a place that they plan to strengthen ‘with markets that match domestic and international demand from customers in Southern California” (local demand) and PHX looks like a complete afterthought. I am really surprised they are not trying to take more advantage of the Alaska feed in SEA, SFO – and at the same time adding some Asia flights out of one or both. The only people who would use DFW as a Asia gateway are in Texas and Louisiana, at some point if they actually want a sustainable presence trans-pacific they are going to have to have some westbound flights originating from the Pacific time zone.

  17. The difference between PHX and CLE:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Metropolitan_Statistical_Areas

    Phoenix is twice the size of Cleveland, and is growing much faster (Cleveland is actually LOSING population). Oh, and it represents a much larger AND isolated catchment area (Cleveland is close enough to places like Detroit and Pittsburgh that driving is a reasonable alternative).

    PHX serves a bigger metro area than DEN, CLT, DTW, MSP and SEA. Do American, Delta, United and Alaska need to relocate out of those cities too? All of them are legacy airlines, all of them serve smaller cities (and it’s not like DEN has a huge UA international presence, and it’s not like AS is flying SEA-NRT/LHR).

    If AA wants to pull out of PHX, someone will move in and gladly make a lot of money, because a city of 4+ million people in the United States is going to have enough native O/D to sustain SOMETHING. It would be pretty pathetic if a merged AA can’t serve a 4+ million city profitably.

  18. Although the new AA has tripled their departing cities from my airport (YVR), they only fly Dallas, Phoenix and LAX.

    Unfortunately the majority of my flying is international. The YVR-LAX flights are timed such that there is very little opportunity to make a connection in LAX.

    PHX – would be my next choice, The times are good, but they don’t offer international to Europe or Asia

    DFW – is going to be my only choice.

  19. @Nick – I can’t see UA de-hubbing IAD. They’d be ceding the non-stop market to the new AA (most people I know prefer DCA, but enough are willing to go to IAD for the non-stops), and there’s a lot of government business.

  20. I still think there are too many hubs on the east coast, something is got a give. MIA stays and JFK stays. Then chose one of the DCA, CLT, PHL.

  21. @nic – DCA is going to stay as well. If AA were willing to reduce service there, they wouldn’t have fought so hard to keep their slots.

  22. PHX has a whole one true international nonstop (Hawaii, Mexico and Caribbean don’t count): BA to London. I don’t understand how such a huge city with relative proximity to the west coast doesn’t at least have nonstop to Asia (Japan please). Even positioned well for South Pacific (New Zealand wouldn’t hurt).

    And AA would have to be foolish or inept to walk away from PHX for domestic traffic.

  23. I think Phoenix will lose capacity but not frequency when there’s a joint operating certificate. As an AA PLT, I’ve had a silly high upgrade percentage on morning flights to PHX and evening flights out of PHX, which means that there’s too much premium capacity on those flights for the local O/D.

    My guess is that:
    – Eastbound, the 321s will connect PHX to DFW/MIA/PHL/ORD/JFK only, everything else will go to 737 or 319
    – Westbound, other than the hub originating travel times (so first bank out, dinner bank back), most flights will go to CR9/CR7, and PHX will start to resemble SLC a little more.

  24. Confucius Jackson:

    If your upgrade ratio is high into/out of PHX on a regular basis, with low F purchases for O/D traffic, one can’t help wonder about yields to PHX.

    I get that there are a lot of cheerleaders amongst the commenters here about PHX [and I do enjoy The Valley of The Sun] but I just don’t see AA keeping the PHX hub 10 years from now.

    Not now, but in ~10 years, AA at PHX will resemble how AA at STL presently looks.

    Others had posted that AA wouldn’t dare cut service to PHX with expansion/refurbishment— STL had just completed an expensive runway upgrade to better handle TW and WN traffic at STL— and AA still gutted STL despite the airport improvements.

    STL was a more dynamic hub for TWA than PHX ever was for HP/US, with more non-stop transatlantic service.

    Much like Confusious Jackson’s prediction that PHX will become similar to DL’s SLC, loaded with regional jet flights— it will. Just like what happened at STL; a quick transition to a huge increase in flights on American Connection and American Eagle, followed by relatively quick chopping for service to both regional jet flights and mainline. Followed by the dehubbing at STL. The rationale by AA was that ORD was so close to STL, and it would be redundant to operate 2 hubs so close to each other. LAX is too close to PHX to keep 2 hubs— even US didn’t believe it was rational to keep hub status at both LAS and PHX due to their close proximity.

    Way too many similarities between what AA did to STL and the fate of AA at PHX; but I do see BA keeping service to PHX. I also see it in the cards that AA will still continue to offer service to at least one Hawaii city from PHX, but I could see it get downsized from a 757 to an ETOPS 737.

    It will be a gradual and slow process, but the dehubbing of PHX by AA will happen; it’s just a matter of time.

    Sorry PHX cheerleaders, gotta agree with Lucky on his interpretation for the fate of PHX. And it doesn’t look rosy.

  25. I agree on PHX and see those employees based there moving to DFW. They will dehub PHX at some point but it will still have some hub like traffic for awhile. They will shift traffic through LAX which is a problem for them but a stronger market.

  26. @ nic — I think long term CLT will see reductions, but DCA and PHL make perfect sense. DCA is a huge market in and of itself. It’s mot really a “hub” in the sense that people aren’t connecting through there, but it’s a huge O&D market. Then Philadelphia is a fantastic alternative to Kennedy for connecting passengers. But agree there might be less long term value in Charlotte.

  27. Max, what will save PHX somewhat is the capacity situation at LAX. It’s similar to, but not identical to, the relationship between CLT/MIA, and PHL/JFK. The pmAA hubs are the better INTERNATIONAL connecting points, but have limitations for domestic. The pmUS hubs are the better DOMESTIC connecting points, but have substantially less O/D to keep international service going. Part of why AA was in a position to be acquired was structural issues with LAX/MIA/JFK, made worse by crappy management by Arpey and crew.

    Parker isn’t going to want to waste capacity at LAX on CR7s, or god forbid CR2s, except to feed transpac routes with high paid-J traffic. It’s not like ORD, where the scope relaxations have helped AA rebuild with CR7/E175 instead of ERJ145s, all the way to about H4 and in much of the L finger.

    Personally, as much as I detest the CR2s to the point of flying other carriers if necessary, I like the CR9s. They’re a reasonably easy upgrade right now except on really US elite-heavy routes such as CLT-HSV. Even then, row 4 is perfectly acceptable for 90 minutes and would be even better if I lost 20 more pounds, and to that end I probably shouldn’t eat the raspberry fig bar 2-pack more than once/week anyway.

  28. The other thing about AA abandoning STL was that STL was in part always both a bargaining chip and a mitigating strategy around the most recent runway addition at ORD. Once they broke ground on that runway, the TW acquisition had served its purpose.

  29. @ Max M

    The thing is though is that PHX is a much much bigger city than St. Louis (the metro area has about 4.4 million people, almost 2 million more people than St. Louis, not to mention a far more robust economy) and STL was about an hour from AA’s megahub in DFW and one of its largest hubs in ORD. Phoenix is a lot further from DFW, and LAX still doesn’t really have the domestic connectivity that ORD does. Phoenix just has way too much O&D (even leisure O&D) for AA to just give up on completely. If DEN (which is between just as large hubs for UA) can work for UA than I don’t see why PHX with similar business activity, a much larger local population, and more tourism (PHX’s tourist season is longer than the ski season in DEN). I don’t think PHX is going to expand (and most likely it will contract a bit) or even be as robust of a hub as DEN, but it will serve a similar purpose within the AA network.

    The AA/TWA merger was at the beginning of the drastic consolidation we have seen of American legacy carriers. At the time there were still too many other airlines for one airline to support so many hubs. As we have seen with UA/CO and DL/NW, only hubs that are super redundant are being eliminated (you don’t need CVG or MEM when you have ATL, DTW, AND MSP/you don’t need CLE when you have ORD, EWR, and IAD). Now that there are only three legacy carriers left, more hubs are needed to maintain their much larger operations. After all AA is going to be the largest American airline once its fully integrated with US. As DL and UA have shown there is a market for whom connecting at an airport between the west coast and the midwest makes sense, and yes PHX is not quite as well located as those ones, but if AA completely dehubs PHX, they are going to end up completely ceding that market to DL and UA.

    I predict that there will be some rightsizing and capacity reductions to accommodate the fact that AA has significant operations at LAX and DFW, but I don’t think PHX is going to lose too many destinations. There still won’t be significant international operations from PHX because the market probably can’t support too much more, although there is probably enough for a 5x per week 787 flight on JL/AA to NRT, especially if they maintain a lot of the route network (even with frequency reductions).

    tl;dr The consolidation of legacy airlines has changed what we previously thought about hub operations/route networks. The airlines are so big now that they need to have at least some hub/spoke sized operation in every region of the country. There are enough flyers out there and few enough airlines for AA to easily sustain a smaller hub sized operation in PHX in addition to LAX and DFW.

  30. Can PHX sustain the size it is now, yes. Could AA use PHX for some transpac flights to allow easier connection instead of LAX and or even DFW and ORD? YES. Having flown on BA flight PHX-LHR-PHX going through customs is a breeze compared to LAX, ORD, or DFW. With US getting the A350 this would allow AA to be able to fly transpac routes and even European routes from PHX. Allowing people to connect through PHX would be much easier then other cities, wouldn’t this be a positive for AA ?

  31. @tony – Part of the reason PHX is easier for customs & immigration is that it has nowhere near the international service that LAX, DFW, and ORD do. If AA started a lot of TATL/transpac flying out of PHX, that advantage would lessen.

  32. @ Brain PHX is my home base, if AA would fly 5-8 international flights a day into PHX, trust me you would still be able to get through PHX much quicker then the other mega hubs. I’m sure PHX could handle twice that and still not be a problem as other airports report.

  33. Phoenix is the #7 Originating and Destination airport in the country so it would be a lot of volume for American to walk away from, even if it isn’t high yielding. Another thing is that DFW is smaller O&D but much higher yielding. With the Wright Amendment ending I expect the yields to fall given SWA’s competition. 2012’s numbers are below…

    Airport – Daily Pax – Length – Yield cents
    1. LAX – 90,338 – 1611 – 12.0
    2. LAS – 78,786 – 1239 – 12.0
    3. ORD – 75,392 – 1056 – 17.3
    4. MCO – 71,836 – 1128 – 12.9
    5. LGA – 62,162 – 981 – 16.7
    6. BOS – 59,766 – 1307 – 13.7
    7. PHX – 58,876 – 1217 – 12.2
    8. DFW – 58,736 – 1065 – 16.3
    9. SEA – 54,272 – 1491 – 12.3
    10. DEN – 52,008 – 1056 – 14.1

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