American Airlines Cutting Flights To 15 Small Cities

Filed Under: American

American Airlines has today announced plans to end flights to 15 small markets in October. About a week ago there started being rumors that American could drop service to 30 markets, but for now only half as many destinations are being cut.

US airlines’ CARES Act service requirements

As a condition of accepting funding through the CARES Act this spring, US airlines had to agree to maintain service to all US airports that they previously served through at least September 30, 2020.

They didn’t have to maintain all the same routes and frequencies, but at a minimum they needed to maintain at least some service to all airports that previously belonged to their network.

In theory I could appreciate the logic of this, but I’m not sure the execution was great:

  • I understand why the government would want to maintain some service even to small airports, so that all Americans still have access to air travel
  • At the same time, many small markets initially had way more capacity than they needed, meaning flights were largely empty

In light of the overcapacity this caused, US airlines were allowed to request the option of dropping service to five markets, or to 5% of destinations, whichever was greater. As a result, we’ve seen airlines drop service to some small markets.

US airlines have had to maintain service to most airports

American Airlines ending flights to 15 markets

American Airlines has today announced that it will be ending flights to 15 markets as of October 7, 2020. This is only a week after the CARES Act funding ends, on September 30, 2020, which is the point at which airlines can drop markets as they see fit.

American Airlines will be ending flights to the following 15 markets, noting that this is only the “first step” of potential cancelations:

  • Del Rio, Texas (DRT)
  • Dubuque, Iowa (DBQ)
  • Florence, South Carolina (FLO)
  • Greenville, North Carolina (PGV)
  • Huntington, West Virginia (HTS)
  • Joplin, Missouri (JLN)
  • Kalamazoo/Battle Creek, Michigan (AZO)
  • Lake Charles, Louisiana (LCH)
  • New Haven, Connecticut (HVN)
  • New Windsor, New York (SWF)
  • Roswell, New Mexico (ROW)
  • Sioux City, Iowa (SUX)
  • Springfield, Illinois (SPI)
  • Stillwater, Oklahoma (SWO)
  • Williamsport, Pennsylvania (IPT)

This will leave many of these airports without commercial service, as American was the only airline flying to at least a handful of these airports. It’s understandable that the economics of air travel have changed, and not all markets that made sense before the pandemic still make sense.

US airlines may now drop service to smaller markets

Yes, American is asking for more money here

Based on American’s press release, it’s pretty apparent that the airline is trying to use this as a bargaining chip to get more government aid.

For one, this is one of the first press releases I’ve ever seen from an airline announcing that service to cities will be ending. Usually airlines just quietly cut service, but clearly American wants to highlight this, hoping that CARES Act funding could be extended.

It’s also interesting that for now the service suspension to these markets is only for a few weeks, as the schedule isn’t updated beyond November 3. As American Airlines explains:

For now, these changes are only in place for the October schedule period, which runs through Nov. 3. The airline will continue to re-assess plans for these and other markets as an extension of the Payroll Support Program remains under deliberation.

Oddly, the concept of maintaining service to markets hasn’t been discussed as part of any potential CARES Act funding extension, as the focus has been on additional payroll support. But I suppose airlines feel like this could be thrown in as an additional carrot.

I think it’s also worth mentioning that the US has the Essential Air Service (EAS) program, where the government provides grants to airlines to service certain airports that aren’t otherwise economically viable. If any of these markets meet that criteria, you can expect that EAS funding would be a sufficient motivator for airlines to restart service.

Is this just a negotiating tactic from American Airlines?

Bottom line

Major US airlines have been required to maintain service to most airports through September 30 as a provision of the CARES Act. With that soon running out, expect all major US airlines to start dropping service to some airports.

American Airlines has now officially announced plans to drop flights to 15 markets as of October 7, 2020. If you ask me, that’s totally fair, because the economics for a lot of routes have changed.

However, it’s apparent that American is also using this announcement as a negotiating tactic, based on the fact that it’s being announced at all (which usually isn’t done for cancelations), along with the fact that service to these markets has only been removed for a few weeks as of now.

What do you make of the markets that American Airlines is dropping?

  1. I expect them to cut flights to more airports than they need to in the hope that it pushes congresscritters to extend CARES act grants. Would not surprise me to see some of these restored if CARES Act is not extended (or extended without the service requirement aspect).

  2. AA just cancelled all flights to YVR through the end of 2020. Not a small city. I have an AA web special award from YVR, is AA going to rebook me on another airline?

  3. It won’t just be AA – this is why they bailout the airlines. Small and medium cities will be left behind in economic recovery because their airports will be decimated and economic opportunities constrained. Many flights are subsidized by local governments. No one has any money anymore for these routes and will be the first to go. Expect many more routes and airlines to follow. Not to mention recent massive airport construction to build and renovate new terminals will leave them close to bankruptcy without passenger revenue. Because it’s critical infrastructure, municipalities happily subsidized these flights so airlines could break even if the demand was lackluster. Now these cash strapped towns will be left holding massive debts on airports with no flights. Dark days ahead for rural, small town America if there isn’t another bailout.

  4. No one should be flying. ITS NOT SAFE. More people need to be inside their homes so not to spread this evil virus

  5. I expect my Congresswoman to vote in favor of CARES to avoid the risk of air service to our small market (SBN) being cut. Making sure that federal money (be it CARES or DOD funds) flow back into our district is her primary job.

    My expectations have been communicated to her.

  6. No one is in business to lose money. If it’s not profitable to fly there, then there shouldn’t be flights. That’s all there is to it.

    For those who are bemoaning the loss of service to your small city, I do genuinely feel bad.

  7. AA spent 1.1 billion dollars on stock buybacks in 2019. Southwest spent 2 billion dollars on stock buybacks in 2019. In 2020 they get a bailout and want another one? How about they sell some stock to raise some cash? What a joke!

  8. @Jojo – Not sure what facts you have that prove “flying is not safe.” Look at any of the Big 3’s websites and the cleaning protocol they follow. And masks are mandated on board.

    I flew IAD-DTW in June, and never felt unsafe. Both airports had social distancing protocol and I felt safe that Delta was taking as many precautions as they could.

    No activity is 100% safe; there is risk every time you get out of bed in the morning. But for everyone to stay in their house for months is simply not practical.

  9. Of course they should be cut if the route doesn’t make economic sense. The government should subsidize unprofitable routes

  10. @JOJO: Flying, or at least the part of it that involves being onboard a commercial airplane, is almost certainly “Safer” than many things you’re doing regularly.

    The question of whether we want to encourage mobility is a different issue…

  11. Jojo: Time to step back and take a deep breath, with or without a mask.

    Bailout: AA should have checked with its Crystal Ball before it invested $1.1 Billion last year. That Crystal Ball could have easily told American that Covid 19 would, shut down the travel economy, would reduce the stock price of AAL from the mid $20’s per share to $13 today. Crystal Ball would have told American to hang on to the $1.1B because it was going to need that cash for the majority of 2020.
    Damn, Bailout, this is a slap your forehead moment if I ever saw one. This was so obvious last year.

  12. I do not understand the un safe flying story anymore . I flew DFW to ORD and trust me I have never seen a plane that clean in my life .Everyone wore mask and AA denied boarding to a nut case he thought he dont have to wear because he in F class. Lol

    AA IS SUPER STRICT . A nd it’s safe to fly .

  13. Widerightv: Walmart and/or Amazon put small businesses out of business. Covid put small businesses, out of business. That’s capitalism.
    But AA etc spend all their profits on buybacks and they didn’t have crystal balls so we gotta bail them out. No more capitalism.

    It’s okay Widerightv, we understand. Your income comes from an airline. The rest of us will bail you out.

  14. Jojo:
    I’m an essential worker and have been flying regularly this entire time, at first I told friends and family to avoid flying, but now I feel like it is safe unless someone is high risk. Also you are more likely to get it standing in line for food or in a taxi than on the actual airplane. I wash my hands well and wear a mask and haven’t gotten it and of the people I know who have gotten it, more of those were people that don’t travel than my coworkers that do travel.

  15. With regards to safety of flying during the pandemic: I listened to American Airlines’ employee podcast this week, and while anecdotal they mentioned that flight & cabin crew were underrepresented In their internal Covid stats. Ramp & engineering was over represented. Just one data point, but it might give an indication as to the biggest risks are not on the aircraft themselves, but rather everywhere else.

  16. If it is unprofitable to fly to certain cities, then airline should stop flying there. Why should tax payers be stuck with those bills? So that some people can live in middle of nowhere? Let them drive. I get that some small cities are critical for national security or whatever reason, those should be kept. But let the people who decides to live in small towns drive because at the end of the day, we should all take responsibility for the decision we made including where we decide to live.

  17. It make sense! If you fly empty or make no money, of course they must/will cut routes. With the pandemic i am certain there must be too many employees at work already.

  18. The cutting may have already begun. AA cut DLH for good a few months ago, and much more recently may have permanently discounted OAK service (again!). Of course, AA has dropped OAK before (it was then re-added to the network via the US merger). Other stations that AA cut before include AGS, BFL, BUR, ISP, LGB, PVD, PWM, SRQ and SWF. I can’t help but wonder if some of those stations could be on the chopping block once again.

    If AA were to suddenly drop service to the likes of BIL, BIS, CAK, CRW, DBQ, DRO, ERI, EUG, EVV, FLO, FNT, GRI, HVN, IPT, JAN, JLN, LSE, MGM, MLB, ORH, PHF, SJT, SPI, TLH and YUM it might send a very profound message to Congress… but don’t a lot of those small markets make the airline far more money than, say, LAS or MCO?

  19. Eventually, the laws of economics will need to be applied and those markets will lose. All the legislation in the world will not force people to fly or companies to increase theri travel budgets. Companies will severely cut travel for some time to come and will not come back at a rate faster than population growth, so we should get used to this for many years. The government and the American people hae totally botched this virus and we will pay for a while. We seem to value individual freedom over science and a virus that could care less about individual rights.

  20. If the Cares Act isn’t extended and these cities (and potentially more) are cut, expect an even slower economic recovery for those regions. Whether we care to admit it air travel is the lifeline to many cities. No company will invest millions to open (or keep) a manufacturing plant or business venture in a small town even with tax incentives if it has no accessibility other than a several hours drive. In addition remember that for every 1 airline employee there are roughly another 11 indirectly employed. On October 1 the economy will not only lose traction for a future recovery but also shed around 900k+ more jobs, many of which high paying.

  21. Not one more cent to the airline industry unless the government decides to go back and re-regulate this industry! Cannot keep using tax payer money to prop up failing businesses! Just can’t do it any longer!

  22. @ Ryan

    I don’t think AGS will be dropped before the pandemic AA was expanding to Washington DC because of Fort Gordon being Cyber training center for the military. Maybe they will cut some of their Charlotte flights to Augusta.

  23. Remember back before the big mid-major consolidations when we had Air Tran Airways, Midwest, Great Plains, etc? Those carriers would jump in to scoop up market monopoly at these smaller markets. Well, “bigger is better”, so they’re all gone. There’s still a few, such as Silver Airways, and a few regional airlines operating under major carrier code share agreements but still have some self-branded flying (mostly charter). I just wonder if this dearth of service to small markets will affect the Essential Air Services program – expand it, maybe? But, that becomes a HUGE funding issue, since the EAS program is sustained by significant government subsidies.

  24. More bailout money for the airlines is nonsense. Airline employees are overpaid and and spoiled. I lived in mid-north Indiana for a number of years and the city lost all scheduled airline service. Nearest airport was 100 miles away and still landed numerous large manufacturing facilities including automobile manufacturing, large engine manufacturing and retained numerous manufacturing facilities without air service for over 30 years now. Lack of economic development is just a scare tactic used by the airlines to eat from the public trough. It has to be survival of the fittest. I can remember all of the airlines failing after deregulation. Braniff, PanAm, Eastern, etc. Some were purchased, some disappeared, some merged. The market will find the correct balance. If the airlines were not held hostage by the unions and paying such absurd high wages to people who don’t do anything now but sit on their butts. And don’t play the “there for your safety” game. The younger flight attendants sit in the jump seat reading books, their IPads, which I am told against FAA regs on takeoffs and landings. Going forward I’m going to snap a picture and file a complaint with the FAA. AA is more concerned about people wearing their mask than FA’s being focused on their job.

  25. I recently flew first class on an American Airlines flight and felt the harsh methods employed to enforce the face mask policy were draconian and insulting. We didn’t need to be reminded every 5 minutes about the mask policy or that we wouldn’t be allowed back on American if we didn’t comply–we were all miserable enough. It felt like we were being treated like wayward criminals. I also didn’t appreciate being treated like a child in the Admiral’s Club where I was escorted to my seat and told I couldn’t leave it except to go to the bathroom or to pick up a snack bag from the bar. And I especially didn’t appreciate getting handed a small cheese and cracker snack for a 4.5 hour flight and then having the flight attendant hide behind the curtain the rest of the flight gossiping with a friend. Shame on you, American, for forgetting who your customers are.

  26. OneXMarine makes good sense! I live a 2 to 3-hour bus ride to a major airport. Right now our local “regional airport” has frequent and multiple airline service, but all predictions from area aviation folks call for an oncoming air travel desert with few airlines left with slim to no connections.

  27. I don’t know about the other cities, but I live near Florence and can say there is 0% of a reason for American to be flying into/out of Florence, SC. This will not be a huge loss to that community. Florence is about two hour’s commute from Charlotte CLT (one of the east coast’s larger international hubs) or slightly over an hour from Columbia CAE (a smaller, but decently appointed airport). American ONLY offered FLO-CLT flights anyway, so the only reason you’d be flying them is if you were transiting through CLT anyway, and you’d spend more than two hours getting to the airport, going through security, going through boarding, and in flight. You might as well just drive to Charlotte, it’s cheaper (which is probably why AA way losing money so badly on the route).

  28. Lake Charles makes sense to cut, AA also flies into Beaumont which is an hour’s drive away. They fly the E145 there, and I flew into BMT last month with only a handful of passengers, maybe 1/4 full on a plane that only seats 50. Consolidation there makes perfect sense.

  29. Flew out of PGV a few weeks ago and the flights were about 70% full. AA was the only airline here, flying to CLT only. I will miss that little airport. Will have to drive to RDU instead.

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