This article is a part of a 5 piece opinion on how American Airlines can regain investor confidence, passenger loyalty and general good public perception. For the index of the articles, see here.
One of the key places where American can improve their stand is domestically. The airline has a robust network, but they neglect some key areas where they can improve.
The first place I think American can improve is with their New York operations. They have been cutting flights from JFK for the last few years. Although some of these cuts make sense, since they have a strong hub in Philadelphia, there is a large niche American can take advantage of in New York.
First, the airline offers the only First Class product cross-country. Their First Class is a step above business class on other carriers, and their First Class Lounge in JFK is wonderful. American has been cutting domestic and European flights, focusing more on point-to-point traffic. I believe that American should focus on premium European flights, like they do with London, and try to attract connecting traffic back into those routes. Namely, they can expand flights to major European cities, such as Paris, Frankfurt and Munich, where they don’t have airline partners flying directly.
Secondly, they can improve connectivity domestically at JFK. They can add more routes for smaller aircraft, say A319s and E175s, that can provide feed for their transcontinental routes or their international flights. In short, a true hub operation.
Thirdly, which also applies to their PHL operations, and some limited LAX, MIA and CLT flights, they need to provide a real premium product not just on JFK-LAX/SFO. If American is really serious about pulling premium traffic from the Bay Area, they should fly lie-flat seat equipped aircraft to places such as San Jose. For other longer haul routes, such as Miami-LAX/SFO and PHL-LAX/SFO, LAX-BOS, etc, they should consistently provide lie flat seats in business class. I would personally fly one-stop from, say, Charlotte to Seattle, if I could get a lie flat seat. (Referring to a Delta CLT-JFK-SEA route).
Improving Domestic Partnerships
American has a lot of room to grow on domestic partnerships. They used to have partnerships with jetBlue and an Alaska (although still in existence, it has been much reduced). Here are some limited partnerships American could pursue.
American should rekindle their relationship with Alaska. The airline offers a thorough network in the West Coast, and American could use the compliment out of Seattle and Portland. They can improve benefits for elite travelers, and make them akin to what they used to be. This would feed a lot of traffic into American’s international flights at LAX, DFW, and JFK, and potentially others.
American used to have a strong presence in Boston, this has since faded. Something similar has happened in San Juan, Puerto Rico. I believe American could enter a limited codeshareing agreement with jetBlue for flights out of Boston, and for flights out of SJU. These flights would allow both airlines to expand their footprint. jetBlue would get more international connections at JFK and LAX (allowing their Mint customers to connect to Europe or Asia). American would be able to pull customers from jetBlue’s domestic routes for their international passengers, and feed into their JFK international flights.
This would be the most limited partnership, but American could codeshare on Hawaiian’s flights from non-hub gateways (such as JFK-HNL) and from Honolulu to Asia, offering them a stronger connection to Asia, beyond their own hubs at LAX and DFW. Hawaiian would gain access to domestic network additions, such as flights from JFK and (if added) PHL to the rest of the East Coast.
From a domestic standpoint, there is a TON of work to do. I do not know what exactly American would need in order to enhance their JFK hub, and at whose expense it would come. When it comes to domestic partnerships, limited codeshares with Hawaiian and jetBlue would provide each carrier synergistic opportunities. Alaska and American used to be great partners, but they have since fallen out, I believe if this relationship improves it will be a benefit for both Alaska and American (as well as their passengers).