American is evaluating LAX as possible hub for Asia flights, the airline’s president said

Will American build an Asian gateway at LAX? Photo: American.

Will American build an Asian gateway at LAX? Photo: American.

American Airlines is evaluating ways to make Los Angeles a primary gateway to Asia, but that does not mean it will happen, Flight Global’s Edward Russell reported this week.

“Figuring out how to make Los Angeles successful and a gateway to Asia is a strategic issue for us,” American Airlines Group president Scott Kirby said on April 4 at the Phoenix International Aviation Symposium. The Flight Global story is behind the site’s paywall but Russell gave me permission to cite it. Kirby said LAX is “very important,” to American.

In terms of Trans-Pacific flights, Los Angeles has been a difficult market for U.S-based carriers. American (Shanghai and Tokyo), Delta (both Tokyo airports) and United (Tokyo and Shanghai) have relatively few flights from L.A. across the Pacific. United and Delta have both had Hong Kong flights in the past, but no longer. LAX is still well covered in terms of international lift, but most of it comes from major international carriers ANA, Cathay Pacific, JAL, Korean, Asiana, Eva Airways, etc.

It’s possible American will change the dynamic. Los Angeles is not the ideal place for a Pacific gateway because it has not historically been as strong of a connecting hub as other airports. Flights tend to work best when there’s a good mix of local traffic (Angelenos in this case) along with connecting traffic. (Passengers from places like Phoenix and Salt Lake and Sacramento, etc. who come to the hub only long enough to change planes.) These gateways tend to be more lucrative when there’s relatively little competition from international carriers.

Los Angeles has the local traffic. The connecting traffic issue is more complicated. Yes, American has flights from throughout country to Los Angeles. But compared to say, Dallas and Chicago, Los Angeles is a small hub. So there are far fewer connecting passengers to feed the international flights. And it’s hard for American to add more domestic flights to feed the international ones, because the airline is gate constrained in L.A. Russell says American has access to 24 gates at LAX, though 10 of them are in a remote terminal and can only handle regional jets. It is to receive access to a few more gates in the airport’s new international terminal, but that’s no panacea.

Still, American is now the world’s largest airline. And as the world’s largest airline, American may need a West Coast gateway. San Francisco is taken — United owns it. And Delta is building a global hub from scratch in Seattle. So that leaves L.A. (I’m assuming that Phoenix is not a viable option.)

Here’s another thing people don’t think about with L.A. It’s actually quite a bit farther from Asia than San Francisco and Seattle. Russell says L.A. is 327 miles farther from Asia than San Francisco. L.A is about 432 miles father from Asia than Seattle.

What do you think? Will American try to build an Asian gateway in L.A.?

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American’s plans for its fleet, and other aviation stories of the past week

An American Airlines 777-300ER parked at LAX. Photo credit: American.

An American Airlines 777-300ER parked at LAX. American is taking delivery of six 777-300s this year, which will bring the total number in the fleet to 16. Photo credit: American.

What’s news in the world of aviation? These are the stories I have enjoyed most in the past week or so:

The size of American’s combined fleet will be just about the same this December as it was in December 2013, the Dallas Morning News reports. But the mix of the mainline airplanes will change a lot. “AAG plans to take delivery of 83 new airplanes in 2014 for American and US Airways, led by 42 of the Airbus A321s,” Terry Maxon writes. “That’s one new airplane every 4½ days, approximately. But AAG also plans to park 80 older airplanes, including 26 McDonnell Douglas MD-80s and 22 Boeing 757s.” The size of the total fleet will be about 970 airplanes.

Did you know that on 72 days in 2013 Delta did not cancel a single flight? And already this year, Delta told the Wall Street Journal’s Scott McCartney, it is already ahead of that pace. What’s Delta’s secret? McCartney breaks it down. One of the most interesting things? Delta moves flight crews around the system to ensure a flight does not necessarily need to be canceled just because the original pilots have gone illegal.

Bloomberg Businessweek reports on an interesting study on airline price volatility. Among U.S. airports, Bloomberg reported that San Francisco had the most volatility, while New York LaGuardia had the least. Among carriers, Alaska Airlines and US Airways played with their prices the least, according to the study.

In her regular column on Flyertalk, flight attendant Sarah Steegar says your flight crews like to mix things up with pranks. Apparently pilots will sometimes tell new hires that they have “forgotten the keys” to the airplane.  Hah!

Is Spirit interested in moving some flights from Fort Lauderdale to Miami? The Miami Herald says it’s a possibility. But that seems odd considering Miami has unusually high costs for airlines. Any ideas on why Spirit is floating this option?

And finally, one of my stories. I wrote a trend piece asking whether airlines have instituted something like an on-board caste system as they have added perks in premium cabins and taken them away from economy class travelers. “I just find it distasteful.” said Charlie Leocha, director of the Consumer Travel Alliance and a consistent airline critic. Others, of course, see no problem with airlines rewarding their most lucrative customers.

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United will bring chauffeured Mercedes-Benz car service to LAX ramp

United will offer Mercedes-Benz rides to some customers at LAX. Photo: Mercedes.

United will offer Mercedes-Benz rides to some customers at LAX. Photo: Mercedes.

United Airlines will drive its most lucrative Los Angeles customers to gates in chauffeured Mercedes-Benz cars starting this spring, an airline spokeswoman told me this week.

Los Angeles will join other United hubs in Chicago, Houston and Newark with the Mercedes-Benz service. United spokeswoman Jennifer Dohm was short with the details, but presumably the Los Angeles operation will work like the others.

For San Francisco, which was announced last week and like Los Angeles also begins this spring, United will use Mercedes-Benz GL350 BlueTEC SUVs. Eligible consumers will be part of United’s Global Services program or will be traveling in United Global First Class. United only has two L.A. routes with Global First — London and Sydney.

“United representatives will meet customers at the aircraft, escort them to the waiting Mercedes-Benz vehicle and drive them across the tarmac to their connecting flight,” the company said in the San Francisco release.

I believe Delta is the only other airline that offers that connecting chauffeur service at LAX. Delta uses Porsche Cayennes in Terminals 5 and 6.

United’s Dohm said she does not have an exact date for the start of the LAX service but said it will be this spring.

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Paying for carry-on bags? It could happen on major airlines.

Might major airlines like United someday charge for carry-on bags? It could happen, an executive at another airline says. Photo: M. Spencer Green/Associated Press

Might major airlines like United someday charge for carry-on bags? It could happen, an executive at another airline says. Photo: M. Spencer Green/Associated Press

Could you someday have to pay for carry-on bags on United, American and Delta?

Andrew Levy, president and chief operating officer at Allegiant Air, says he thinks you will. His airline, known for selling deeply discounted coach tickets mainly to and from leisure destinations, has been charging for all but the smallest carry-on bags since 2012. So far, in the United States, only Allegiant and competitor Spirit are charging for cabin bags.

“I would be shocked if in three years we were still the only ones charging for carry-on bags,” Levy told me in an interview last month. “I think if you are platinum medallion on Delta you ‘ll never pay for those. But if I’m ‘Joe Blow’ who only flies twice a year, I’ll always pay.”

You probably don’t believe him. But keep in mind, Allegiant was among the first carriers to charge for checked baggage, making customers pay for bags well before American Airlines shocked passengers in 2008 with the new fee. A fee that was almost immediately copied by every major airline except Southwest.

That could happen again with carry-on bags.

“I personally believe it is inevitable that there will be a charge for carry on bags,” Levy said. “I think it will be a widely adopted fee. But we’ll see. I could be wrong. But the industry has been moving pretty consistently toward where we are and where Spirit is. I don’t think it will stop.”

Charging for carry-on bags is beneficial for airlines in a couple of ways, Levy said. The first one is obvious. The airlines make money off of something that used to be free. The second is a slightly harder to quantify. But if charging for bags means passengers bring less stuff, airplanes will presumably fly at lighter weights.  And over time, that lighter planes can bring some fuel savings.

For many passengers, the key is that an airline’s best customers will actually be rewarded by this move. First, they’ll end up getting a perk, since they almost certainly won’t have to pay to use the overhead bin. Second, the bins will have more space than they do now, since passengers will no longer have an incentive to avoid checking luggage.

What do you think? Do you agree with Levy’s prediction? And do you think airlines should charge for carry-on bags?

And check back next week for more of Levy’s thoughts on ancillary revenue products.

 

 

 

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