With JetBlue alliance over, AA shifts its focus to Philly

American Airlines’ recent announcements of four additional transatlantic routes from Philadelphia could signal a renewed emphasis by the carrier on its Pennsylvania hub now that its New York-area alliance with JetBlue has ceased.

Beginning in late October, American will move its lone Doha, Qatar, gateway from JFK to Philadelphia. On Aug. 17, the carrier also announced seasonal transatlantic routes from Philadelphia to Copenhagen; Naples, Italy; and Nice, France, beginning next spring.

In a video released earlier this month, American’s senior vice president of network planning, Brian Znotins, explained why Philadelphia, where there are no capacity restrictions, works better than slotrestricted JFK on transatlantic routes that rely heavily on connecting traffic. In Philadelphia, he said, American can coordinate up to 40 arrivals at one time, providing feed to international routes. At JFK, the carrier can only bring in as many as nine flights at once.

“So, when we fly from JFK, it’s really about the local market — can we sell to New Yorkers,” Znotins said. “And when we fly from Philadelphia, it’s really about the entire U.S.”

Nevertheless, Philadelphia has, to this point, been secondary in American’s East Coast strategy as the airline has rebuilt its network in the aftermath of the pandemic.

In July, American flew 21.7% fewer total seats out of Philadelphia than it did in July 2019, including 31% fewer seats to Europe, Cirium flight schedule data shows.

During the same month, American flew 42.8% more seats out of JFK than it did four years earlier, including 21.5% more seats to Europe.

Making the connection

Over the past year, that has been changing. American has begun re-emphasizing Philadelphia, flying 8% more seats year over year from the City of Brotherly Love, compared with a 4.5% increase in its network overall.

The death of the American-JetBlue Northeast Alliance last month, in compliance with a court finding that it was anticompetitive, provides new incentive for American to look toward Philadelphia.

While the alliance was in place, American could coordinate its transatlantic schedule out of JFK with JetBlue’s domestic network, effectively increasing its ability to feed those JFK flights.

Not anymore.

“It’s all about connecting traffic and accessibility,” said John Grant, senior analyst for the air travel data provider OAG. “That’s much easier in Philadelphia than JFK.”

Grant added that if American continues to rebuild its Philadelphia transatlantic network, it might also build up domestic flying into the airport to feed those flights.

So far, noted Brett Snyder, a travel advisor and airline industry analyst who writes the Cranky Flier blog, American has added just those few new Philadelphia routes since the end of its alliance with JetBlue.

“But they are talking about Philly again,” he said.

Snyder added that Philadelphia is going to be American’s primary European gateway, especially for smaller markets like Copenhagen, Naples and Nice, which aren’t heavily served via New York or other U.S. markets.

Last year’s resumption of Boeing 787 Dreamliner deliveries is also positioning American to rebuild its transatlantic network more aggressively after it shed its Boeing 767 and Airbus A330 widebody fleets at the beginning of the pandemic.

But the challenge for the airline will be that while Philadelphia is a strong hub in the summer, it’s much weaker in the winter, when U.S.-Europe traffic slows.

Znotins said that American will deploy planes that it uses in the winter for Dallas-Auckland service on the Philadelphia-Naples summer route, taking advantage of what he called the countercyclical opportunities of seasonality.

“The question is, can they find enough countercyclical opportunities elsewhere in the network in the winter to help them build Philly even more in the summer,” Snyder said.

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