American Permanently Cuts Chicago To China Flights

Filed Under: American

Chicago is a hub where American has hugely decreased their Asia routes in the past year. The airline used to fly daily from Chicago to Beijing, Shanghai, and Tokyo Narita.

As of October 2018, American canceled their flights from Chicago to Beijing and Shanghai, and as of December 2018, American reduced their flights from Chicago to Tokyo from daily to 3x weekly.

So American has gone from offering 21 weekly flights to Asia, to offering just three.

American claimed that they had lost a significant amount of money on their flights from Chicago to China, but also positioned this as a route suspension rather than a route cancelation.

US to China flights are slot restricted, so the DOT specifically awards those slots to airlines based on what they think maximizes the most good for consumers. So if American just gave those slots back to the DOT, there would have been a process for other airlines to acquire those slots (this could be for flights between other US and China city pairs).

Airlines are sort of like bratty three year olds. It doesn’t matter if they’re playing with their toy or not, they don’t want any other “kid” to get their toy.

That’s exactly the approach American took here. American sought a dormancy waiver at the time. Essentially they claimed that it was temporary conditions causing the situation, and that they would resume the flight

Surprisingly the DOT gave them the benefit of the doubt, and gave them until June 28, 2019, to resume the flights, or else they’d give up their rights to these slots.

Yesterday was June 28, and guess what? American didn’t relaunch flights. So they sent a letter to the DOT stating that they were returning their 14 weekly slots between Chicago and China. As they explained:

Despite American’s efforts, American is unable to resume its two services in the near future. American is therefore returning its frequencies so that they are available for use by other carriers.

Now we’ll have to see which airlines are interested in those slots. The DOT will provide a period where airlines can state their desires for China service, and if there are more applications than available slots, there will be a process for deciding which service is most “worthy.”

None of this comes as a surprise — it was clear all along that American had no intention of relaunching flights from Chicago to China. Even American’s new partnership with China Southern doesn’t seem to have made a difference.

Hopefully this is taken into account the next time American asks the DOT for any sort of dormancy waiver.

  1. Even if DL and UA reapply for MSP-PVG and 2nd daily EWR-PVG, there are still 7 weekly slots left.

  2. Sounds like a golden opportunity for “the friendly skies” to take over these slots (insert Rhapsody in Blue song here).

  3. Can carriers apply for any city pair? Would love to have a UA IAD-PVG to complement their long-running IAD-PEK service. In my experience, fewer delays in PVG = easier connections.

  4. I feel like MSP-PVG won’t work for Delta. Delta took three tries for ATL-PVG to work and ATL has more connectivity. I’m guessing after another daily flight from EWR, United will apply for either IAH-PVG or IAD-PVG since those are the largest unserved US markets to Shanghai.

  5. I don’t think MSP-PVG will work for Delta. It took Delta three tries for ATL-PVG to work and there is more connectivity and demand there. I’m guessing after another EWR-PVG frequency, United will apply for IAH-PVG or IAD-PVG since those are the largest unserved markets to Shanghai in the US.

  6. @Jim
    I’d expect PEK to be much better soon. The new Beijing airport will offset any non *A capacity from PEK.

  7. Hey Rob –
    Where is the outrage for China dumping capacity and crushing fares therefore causing AA to CANCEL routes because they cannot make $$?? Oh right, it’s only the ME3 who do that and China gets a pass…

  8. Why do articles about AA’s ORD-Asia flights always ignore the metal-neutral JV with JAL (also flying ORD-NRT). Not hugely relevant to China flights, but still…

  9. Why not these routes?

    DEN-PEK (United)
    PHX-PVG (American)
    SLC-PEK (Delta)

    These are pretty hot cities in terms of migration. SLC is getting a much refreshed airport in the coming years too. Here’s a quote from the pamphlet about “The New SLC” as it’s being called:

    “Concourses with gates can accommodate larger planes, including doubling international capable gates from 3 to 6, enabling more non-stop service to long-haul international destinations.”

  10. Chicago is a notorious shithole.
    Of course Chinese would not go ORD, even for transferring.

  11. @Daniel

    I don’t think SLC-PEK would have enough O/D traffic to make it work. At least not with any plane that DL has flying right now. Ed Bastian has stated that with the new airport and the JV in place, they will look at introducing TPAC service with SLC-ICN

  12. American should continue to cut routes to mainland China. They should cut down the frequencies of their 4 routes from daily to 4X a week. That way between DFW and LAX there’s still at least one flight daily to PEK and PVG and being more efficient.
    United will get the traffic for the Beijing summer Olympics as they are a sponsor.

  13. Seems like they should have finalized the schedule a couple months ago and could have notified the agency earlier. There should be penalties for sitting on slots like this — perhaps a slot rental fee that is charged per slot, not per flight.

    Also surprised they reduced frequency to Narita while also asking for HND slots.

  14. @Bob : try using AA EXP SWU on JAL and tell me how “seamless” it goes. The neutrality aspect is only for those with skin in the game. From any customer’s perspective, that’s just a codeshare partner.

  15. Let’s face reality — AA totally does *not* have the necessary infrastructure and operations to compete against UA when it comes to Asian markets out of ORD! Last I checked, ORD just happens to be the airport servicing UA’s headquarters? In fact, AA appears to be generally *weak* in all aspects when it comes to Asian markets, as is DL! So while AA/DL retrench out of Asia, UA expands there (now 2X daily to/from HKG)! Having airline alliances can be nice, but it’s nothing like having your own airlines also servicing those destinations directly (like UA does)!

  16. @D3KingAmerican,

    The Summer Olympics are in Tokyo next year. The next Winter Olympics are in Beijing in 2022.

  17. Time for the Me3 to exercise freedom flights to ORD for “Round the World” itinerary’s. I’m in…

  18. @Lucky

    I work in aviation. I never thought of “bratty three year olds” that way, but there is a hell of a lot of truth in what you wrote. Perhaps too much. It actually makes efficiency management a lot harder. Nobody wants to give something up for the greater good, because god forbid somebody else gets a benefit. Better that everybody suffer together. Misery loves company I guess?

  19. Lucky the last part of my comment is directed as you requesting your opinion, so take a look.
    I honesty don’t blame any of the major airlines for doing as AA did in holding the slots until the last minute. If they hadn’t it could be viewed as not utilizing all legal means to ensure shareholders get the best value. Unfortunately this is just good business practice in our society, as it exists now and we shouldn’t fault companies for taking advance of rules that everyone else does too. Not saying I support it.
    But to be the bigger issue; my hunch that the new entry Chinese Airlines’s are indeed offering prices at unsustainable levels to try and undercut the local competition. Being the US majors. This kind of business strategy is not new, and it’s frankly disappointed but not unexpected,
    Lucky, I would like to see more articles discussing the core cause of the issues that have led to the items you complain about. Context is everything, and your opinion matters to us readers…. what caused the economics of these routes to change so much for AA that they are willing to give up primo routes. ??!
    Respectfully, Your article needs more history and in-depth background info for it to do justice on the subject.

    Love your good work, thanks for the articles.

  20. @scott How many Chinese airlines can you name off the top of your head without using google ?

  21. @D3KingAmerican

    From best to worst:
    Xiamen (they should serve ord)
    China eastern/shanghai airlines
    China southern
    Air China

    Hainan and Xiamen had an incredible business class fares. Hainan is also alaska partner which makes it even better. China eastern is still acceptable. For the other airlines dumping cheap tickets i could care less because of their poor service right now.

  22. Delta can possibly make MSP-PVG work. Surprisingly enough, the best consistently performing US-China route has been Delta’s DTW-PVG (none of the best performing ones are those the heavily contested LAX/JFK/SFO routes), and recently they had to replace their 744 with 350 due to fleet retirement – so there are even flow over demand for DL to catch thru MSP hub. ATL’s problem is that it is ultra-long, so it was much harder to manage from the cost side.

  23. I have noticed that photos in your daily emails have started to show “squashed” pictures. They look ridiculous (like a B787 trying to imitate a A318) so please stop doing this.

  24. I think there must be something wrong regarding routes or hub design for AA.
    For me as a Chinese based in NYC with a lot of AA gift cards, even I intentionally tried to find a good way to book on AA, it was still hard, while DL and UA always served my purpose much better. AA will always divert my options with an additional transfer at Philly which I had no interests to make this additional transfer there(it always came to a 2+transfers somehow).

    AA’s alliance also lack of a strong partner in China’s Mainland which made this piece of meat extremely hard to eat, I have never flied with Cathy Pacific so far, Cathy though it is a really famous and higher end airline, but I have to say, it does not have a presence in Mainland at all.

    Compared to UA, Air China, UA, ANA, Singapore, Asiana, all of them are strong partners serving almost every corner in Asia, including small cities and towns in China and US or around the world, even it shipped me to Chicago, but I believe they made a good choice to have a presence at NYC/EWR.

    Another thing I think UA does well to ship people to Chicago is for connections to the cities in midwest, a lot of people from China went to those cities for different reasons like going to school, etc. UA made it possible for a smooth transfer while if you took an AA flight, it might either have 2-3+ transfers or you have to come from Shanghai or Beijing. The philly options just made nowhere to go compared to the NYC’s options.

  25. @D3KingAmerican, I really don’t see your point other than to deflect from the question I’ve asked. That question being: Are Chinese airlines offering below market pricing in the US-China flight market? Whenever I search I tend to find the answer is yes, but I’m curious what Lucky thinks. We’re not talking about experience here, we’re talking about pricing route for route.

  26. “Hopefully this is taken into account the next time American asks the DOT for any sort of dormancy waiver.” And this matters to you because…..

    So you go from a blogger of tips and trips to Industry regulatory watchdog?

  27. I’m amused remembering the abuse DL took over the HAN traffic. DL met DOT’s requirements for usage yet DOT revoked the slot. Now enter AA, requesting dormancy on routes while never intending to fly them. Why no abuse for AA in this situation?

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