American Slashes Philadelphia Transatlantic Routes

Filed Under: American

American Airlines has made quite some schedule changes over the weekend, including retaliating against JetBlue in Fort Lauderdale, and adding a new Charlotte to Honolulu flight. Now there’s even more.

American cuts several transatlantic routes

American Airlines has just suspended four transatlantic routes, which were supposed to return in the summer of 2021. Specifically, the following four transatlantic destinations from Philadelphia have been cut:

  • Keflavik, Iceland
  • Manchester, United Kingdom
  • Prague, Czech Republic
  • Venice, Italy

The transatlantic routes American has suspended

The suspensions as such aren’t surprising, but what is surprising is how they’re being positioned. As noted by @xJonNYC, American states the intention is to bring back Philadelphia to Venice flights in 2022, which suggests that the other route cuts are permanent, or at a minimum there are no plans to bring them back anytime soon.

On top of that, while it’s not a service resumption, American has no plans to launch a flight from Philadelphia to Casablanca, Morocco anymore, which was initially supposed to start in the summer of 2020:

American has retired its entire 757 fleet

American claims that there are plans for a dozen transatlantic flights out of Philadelphia for next summer, though I’d assume this remains highly subject to change, depending on vaccine rollout and general travel restrictions. These dozen destinations are as follows:

  • Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • Athens, Greece
  • Barcelona, Spain
  • Dublin, Ireland
  • Edinburgh, Scotland
  • Lisbon, Portugal
  • London, United Kingdom
  • Madrid, Spain
  • Paris, France
  • Rome, Italy
  • Shannon, Ireland
  • Zurich, Switzerland

I doubt American will actually operate these dozen routes

The surprising transatlantic route cut

To me the above route cuts aren’t any surprise, with one exception. I’m shocked that American plans to permanently cut Philadelphia to Manchester flights. Manchester is also a business market, and not just a seasonal destination for American tourists.

In the past American has even operated A330s to Manchester, so this wasn’t some seasonal route they tried with a small plane once.

If anything, I wonder if we might see Aer Lingus take over the route, as the airline is joining the oneworld transatlantic joint venture and launching transatlantic flights out of Manchester.

Could Aer Lingus fly between Manchester and Philadelphia?

American desperately needs the A321XLR

American recently retired all 757s and 767s, and the issue that creates is that the smallest long haul aircraft is now a 787. In 2019 American placed an order for 50 A321XLRs, which have similar capacity to the 757, but will have significantly better range and economics.

American is supposed to start taking delivery of these planes in 2023, which probably optimistically coincides with a demand in recovery for transatlantic travel.

I would expect that American will only resume many transatlantic routes to secondary destinations in Europe with A321XLRs. At a minimum I’d say that destinations like Casablanca and Keflavik would only resume with that aircraft type, because the 787 simply offers too much capacity.

American has 50 A321XLRs on order

Will Philadelphia be deemphasized as a hub?

Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself here, but I can’t help but wonder if this might be foreshadowing American eventually reducing Philadelphia as a transatlantic gateway.

American and JetBlue plan to launch a strategic partnership. With this, American plans to operate a couple dozen long haul flights out of JFK over time, including to Africa, Europe, India, and South America. JetBlue will largely be providing the regional feed for those flights.

While the details remain to be seen, it sure seems like American’s growth in the northeast might be focused on New York rather than Philadelphia. For example, American has made it clear that it plans to launch New York to Tel Aviv flights, while there are no plans to launch Philadelphia to Tel Aviv flights.

American really is all over the place when it comes to strategy, though, so who really knows. LAX was a massive transpacific gateway, and now that’s largely being dismantled. JFK used to be a big hub for American, then it was cut significantly, and now it’s being rebuilt. And then you have American growing in Seattle, thanks to a new partnership with Alaska Airlines.

Strange times, eh?

Could future northeast transatlantic growth be focused on JFK?

Bottom line

While it’s not surprising to see American temporarily cut transatlantic flights, what I find interesting here is that American is proclaiming some Philadelphia route cuts as permanent.

Only time will tell how this evolves, and I suspect in 2023 and beyond we may see some of these routes restored when the A321XLR reenters service. However, reading between the lines I can’t help but feel like Philadelphia might not be as major of a transatlantic gateway as it once was, given the retirement of the 757, 767, and A330, as well as the new emphasis on New York.

What do you make of these Philadelphia route changes?

  1. Lots of poorly thought out assumptions here. First off, the cuts are not all that dramatic and are quite logical when you look at them individually, as follows:

    -PRG is a heavy leisure, no business market, that exists seasonally to feed the river boat cruise traffic, which isn’t likely to rebound much in the Summer of 2021. BUD was already cut, so it stands to reason PRG would be too.
    -KEF was over served before COVID19 and was beginning fade as a high demand destination just prior. AA doesn’t have the right aircraft to fly KEF any longer (it could use the A319, 738, or 321, but there are some scope clauses in the OW alliance that require flat beds on TATL routes, or something to that effect). Either way, an easily disposable route.
    -VCE – It’s not being cut, it is just being halted for Summer 2021. The route depends on cruise traffic, which this year, is likely to be minimal at best.
    -MAN – A very poor performer that has been gradually axed by all the US3. Not much premium demand here, and plenty of leisure. The US-UK market was beginning to change pre-COVID and will increasingly be LON focused going forward. MAN is a long standing route from PHL, operated by US for a long time, then picked up by AA, but it isn’t profitable.

    TXL and Dubrovnik were also cut, as was Casablanca earlier. No, PHL’s role as a hub is not being diminished all that much, but 70% of AA’s TATL portfolio pre-COVID at PHL was leisure oriented and sustained by an almost 400+ daily departure roster. PHL has seen cuts and what’s left is core and what AA can serve if the remaining routes can restart by Summer 2021. I suspect ZRH is the next one to get axed, and will likely shift back to JFK where it came from.

    The A321XLRs will help AA for sure, but they’re not urgently needed as you suggest. They will be used to redraw the AA TATL route map, with some going from PHL and others from JFK and potentially even CLT. AA has axed the entire A330, 767 and 757 fleets. These were the jets that formed the backbone of PHL TATL, not the 787 which just prior to the pandemic were only flying to MAN, AMS, and ZRH.

  2. Transatlantic with the 757 was hell, not only for the passengers but even more for the crews (only 1 toilet up front inc for the flight deck, noisy brightly lit galley, sup-par Business Class beds etc. .. in addition to being worn and dirty.

    Maybe the A321 XLR is better conceived, but 7hr+ in a narrow body will always be miserable. It is acceptable in the MAX for very low cost / Very low fare carriers, but nothing more, and certainly not with today’s pitches. An almost empty front cabin on the 757 could be divine but it practically never happened.

  3. Ending MAN means the end of American’s presence after 35 years. DL didn’t so much pull out as was replaced by VS as there was better name recognition. UA’s EWR-MAN route got “rona’ed” earlier this year.

    As far as business demand goes AstraZenca did have a contract, at least I assume so judging by the number of people I saw from there over the years, back to when it was ORD-MAN.

  4. Lucky, remember that a lot of these routes were added a the tail end of a hot economy for both leisure and business travel. It will take years for that part of the economy to recover even if vaccines are rolled out quickly next year. People who need to travel to these destinations can fly to hubs in Europe, and can be served more profitably.

    JFK just makes more sense as a TATL hub than PHL as AA and its partners can take advantage of more O&D traffic.

  5. “London, United Kingdom”
    “Edinburgh, Scotland”


    I suppose we should be grateful not to have “Edinburgh, England”.

  6. I have a hard time seeing AA’s partnership with B6 feeding Transatlantic routes through JFK as being more attractive to passengers than from its own routes into PHL. The AA to B6 transfer requires one to exit security and re-enter and ride the air train. Coming into the US clearing CBP at JFK certainly is worse than PHL.

    If AA downgrades PHL as a Transatlantic gateway, I can’t imagine having interline ticketing through JFK. I’ll fly through ORD or fly on somebody else. NY airspace is asking for trouble as a traveler.

  7. I’m surprised by the Shannon route remaining in play. Nothing against Shannon but out of all these routes scattered all over Europe and we get two routes to Ireland. It would be like saying you are going to operate BA limited routes from LHR to Toronto, NYC, LA, Dallas, Miami, Mexico City and Fort Lauderdale.

  8. @shoeguy
    “PRG is a heavy leisure, no business market, that exists seasonally to feed the river boat cruise traffic”
    PRG feeding river cruises? On what river? There are now river cruises out of Prague (apart from few-hours long dining cruises) or anywhere nearby as there are no suitable rivers.

  9. I’m surprised by the cutbacks at PHL. AA has great feeder routes from all over into PHL. Furthermore, let’s face it JFK is a congested beast while PHL is a much more compact airport that is a pice of cake to transit when you are moving between international and domestic. I hope these are temporary moves until the new planes arrive in 2023. Otherwise I believe AA will regret downgrading PHL.

  10. @maxj, PHL-BER will not come back. It was 4 x weekly, on a 767-300ER (TXL) when it was added in 2018 and operated again in 2019 but marginal at best. That’s a route where the A321XLR will be the ideal plane (for the AA network).

    @samo, Prague is a major transfer station for Danube river cruises (Avalon, Viking, etc..)

    @daninMCI, SNN will get the axe soon too.

    @upstater, NYC air traffic is a breeze these days, given the huge cuts to travel. Doubt AA will make JFK a TATL hub (it’s too late for that, and the ship has sailed) but we will see a much greater rationalization of TATL service between PHL and JFK on AA metal once the industry rebounds. JFK to Europe on AA exists for O&D, not transfers. PHL, until COVID anyway, was all about the connections. That’s going to change. Some PHL routes are going to move to JFK.

  11. The real crux of the story:
    “American really is all over the place when it comes to strategy, though, so who really knows.”

    And American will have no transatlantic system if it is counting on the A321XLR to save it but get feed from B6 which has the same aircraft coming much sooner.
    If B6 as a partner can add flights into AA’s MIA hub, leading to AA flights from FLL, why should anyone think that B6 won’t add the same transatlantic flights that AA is operating (or wants to) from JFK and PHL on B6 A321s? That leaves AA with routes beyond the range of the A321XLR which is largely in/around the Med where AA has never done well.

  12. Texas is open. Gov Abbott just said there will be no more lockdowns in Texas and WHO supports his decision. Other states are going back into lockdown.

    AA should serve international routes out of DFW for the time being.

    I can’t see PHL-ZRH ever being cancelled

    Why are people talking about A321XLR isn’t that a few years away still ?

  13. I wouldn’t predict the death of PHL as a transatlantic hub given the current situation with border closures and the pandemic. I don’t believe AA has much of a European strategy except to just react to the situation as it evolves. That said, I for one, will never chose JFK as a transatlantic hub if PHL is eliminated. I use PHL a lot and if it were to go away I’d default to DFW or CLT. For early 2021, I’m booked through DFW.

    And, I’ll be passing on any narrow body plane for a TATL flight.

  14. @shoeguy

    Excellent value-add post – thank you!

    It’s just interesting that – unlike UA – American has chosen to retire subfleets that aren’t easily replaceable right now, such as the 757 and 767. This will limit their options over the near-term horizon.

  15. This is so depressing. Was hoping that 2021 would be some semblance of normal but that fast seems to be a pipe dream. If AA is cancelling this many flights so far out, I’d bet on SNN, ZRH, ATH, and a whole bunch more being cancelled by summer 2021.

  16. As a PHL user often, it’s not inevitable. PHL was inherited & now that things have changed, it makes sense JFK will be a focus for AA again, especially with the help of JetBlue. If things don’t get back to pre covid levels by 2023, I wouldn’t be surprised with PHL going the way of PIT and being dropped completely as a main airport

  17. Aer Lingus probably won’t be taking over these flights. They just cancelled my booked flight for April from Philadelphia to Dublin. When I asked why they said they will no longer be flying from Philadelphia.

  18. I have no insight into market data or forecasts used by American, but in their defence of having a strategy all over the place reflects the uncertainty going forward. Vaccinations have started, but it will take time to reach sufficient numbers for herd immunity to take effect. Add on economic malaise, less business travel and reluctance to travel by many – not to forget borders opening and lockdowns easing will take time and not happen all at the same time.

    We’re in for some interesting times in 2021.

  19. Anyone in their right mind is not going to be flying in 2021. Even if you get the vaccine, you are not bulletproof. Much safer but with the UK having a major new strain, there could eventually be a strain for which a new vaccine is needed. Keep wearing masks and not acting foolishly.

  20. @marco, AA’s 767s (and 757s) had inferior products (though the AA 767s had a decent business class product). The 767 fleet was underinvested for decades, prone to delays, and not very reliable, and used on tertiary routes predominantly until they were retired. As for the 757s, very few were actually flown TATL in the end so not really a factor here. UA had invested millions in upgrading their 767s, but remember 16 of them, all -400ER’s are in long term storage, and potentially never to fly again, and sport the old business class cabin as retrofits were planned for this year before COVID19 hit. If those planes do not return, some of UA’s leisure TATL routes could also be axed. UA and AA (and DL) use their 757s and 767s differently.

  21. @timdunn, not entirely accurate at all. First, the AA/B6 partnership, if it ever materialize, and which I have my doubts, is focused on JFK, LGA, and BOS, not MIA and AA does not need B6 feed to make TATL work. It could benefit from B6 feed at JFK to make JFK a bigger TATL station than it is. JFK was finally profitable for AA in 2019 when it standardized long haul around the 77W/772 and offered a competitive product in premium cabins, including premium economy, and cargo haul. Passing off AA as a failure on TATL is also misinformed. No, AA has not been aggressive in the market as UA or DL, but it shared in the $1BN revenue stream that is NYC-LHR and dominates it with BA. TATL out of JFK and NYC was saturated pre-pandemic, with DL/UA/DY. That’s going to change. DL has axed a lot of leisure routes for good, UA will probably rationalize its portfolio, and AA may add a few routes (at PHL’s expense) as things evolve post-pandemic, but it won’t likely be in 2021.

  22. The A321XLR’s range is completely unnecessary for PHL-KEF. Just about any ETOPS 737 or A320 variant can do that hop. Might not even technically need ETOPS, given Canadian and Greenland diversion options. Distance is about the same as West Coast-Hawaii routes, which are commonly served by 737s and A321s. 321XLR is major overkill on range for that route. I’d guess that cut just has more to do with soft demand. The U.S. airlines mostly only ever flew narrowbodies there even before COVID.

  23. PHL is a dump and there is really no business there. I always thought that PHL-MAN was an interesting flight. From one of the worst airports in the US to the worst in the UK. What a depressing flight.

  24. @shoeguy,
    AA’s transatlantic system has been breakeven at best based on AA’s own filings to the US DOT even in 2019.
    AA and B6 CANNOT tell agree to where they will compete and where they will cooperate. AA can decide to buy seats on B6 operated flights (and B6 can do the same if they want) but if B6 adds its own flights into AA’s top markets, AA loses far more than it can potentially gain.
    There is little reason for AA to participate in a partnership with B6 other than to try to hold onto a few passengers on a few poorly performing routes that AA needed to drop anyway.
    Domestic codeshare arrangements on two US airlines don’t work and B6 has just proven the reason. One partner will see more value in taking disproportionately more from its “partner” than the other way around.

    B6 is adding MIA because NK is now dominant in FLL and B6 desperately needs to diversify its network away from the NE and its hourly shuttles from BOS and NYC to Florida.

    Of course B6 wants to hold onto a partnership in NYC and BOS and then raid everyone else’s markets with AA’s top MIA routes at the top of the list.

    B6 can compete and face the competitive environment it creates. Why American would choose to continue a partnership with them is beyond me – and if AA continues, AA’s demise will only accelerate.

  25. Philly won’t be deemphasized as a hub – as huge a presence DL has at JFK, American makes more money in PHL than DL does at JFK. Operating costs in NYC are enormously expensive. With the exception of Manchester, the other routes were leisure markets. What you see is American adapting to the extreme challenges being brought about in Europe. A hard BREXIT is now likely to happen and COVID is creating havoc in Europe. Philly will be slow to regain transatlantic hub until everything settles. And you can’t look at it from just a passenger viewpoint but from cargo as well – a huge money maker for them with their cargo facility at PHL.

  26. I don’t see International making any meaningful recovery in 2021. Since Florida is open, FLL is more sure fire route that an airline can fill planes to the brim from the NE if the fares are cheap enough. And since it’s now about cash flow but not about profit, with the hope the profit ultimately comes before a bankruptcy, routes like JFK/FLL and BOS/FLL make perfect sense.

  27. AA and American Eagle fly to pretty much every minor/major airport in the Northeast and can transfer via PHL, while this will never be possible at JFK. None in the NE will fly down to CLT and backtrack to Europe. I feel this is the only reason that AA will maintain a PHL mini hub in the future as they would lose all that traffic to UA in EWR/IAD or

  28. @shoeguy: Thanks. I find i lt suprising, I’d expect that if airlines rely on Danube cruise traffic for a route, they would fly to a city that is near Danube (e.g. VIE, BUD or some places in Germany).

  29. Philadelphia International is home to AA’s brand new cold storage pharmaceutical cargo hub (opened just prior to Covid-19). AA TATL is not leaving PHL anytime soon.

  30. I find it interesting how you create this narrative of PHL route cuts and potential pending doom for the hub rather than the main narrative that 3 European stations were cut and a 4th postponed until 2022. PHL served a lot of unique European routes that were not served by any other hub.

    AA also stated that destinations that cannot generate profits year round were subject to cuts. Therefore also on this list could be LIS, EDI, and ATH.

    If PHL was the issue rather than the European destination that was cut, then the airline would have moved the route to another domestic hub.

  31. @Dan,
    I do wish you would provide the data to back up your statements. Airlines don’t report profit and loss by hubs. They do report it by global operating region.
    AA reported to the DOT a net income margin of less than 1% for its transatlantic system – that is considered breakeven.
    On the same basis, DL reported 15%.

    If DL can lose money at JFK but somehow be profitable on its transatlantic system – of which JFK was their largest point in 2019 – they clearly are making a ton of money somewhere else which other airlines haven’t figured out how to duplicate.

    AA added a bunch of secondary and tertiary destinations in Europe esp. from PHL over the past few years and those are the least likely to survive a downturn.

    A major implication of AA’s pulldown of a bunch of secondary destinations in continental Europe is that AA is supposed to fly a bunch more flights to continental Europe in order to offset BA’s much larger size between the US and LHR on which AA has a joint venture.

  32. Given the partnership American will have, JFK is clearly going to be the big winner out of this exchange. American is only going to be adding flights to the hub in JFK over PHL. Once again PHL had a lot of secondary routes and those don’t survive downturns that much. But who knows what to expect. I strongly believe that also some regional flights are going to come to JFK on American Airlines also as a result of this change. From the likes of PSA airlines, I would not be surprised if they started a hub at Kennedy and added some routes there and took over the Envoy routes. JFK was always a hub for American Airlines, it just had some big cuts. I knew American would come back to the hub at JFK like United did with IAD. For years EWR was heavily invested in by United, and IAD looked like a hub that was going to disappear, but then United would diversify its hubs and even everything out. EWR and IAD are both very profitable for United. I’m not sure about PHL though, but JFK will be a very profitable hub for American Airlines. The only reason why US airways killed PIT as a hub was because PIT would not lower down costs. I think PHL will stay as a hub, but it might become what JFK was like 3-4 years ago, meant for O&D. I think PHL will be a smaller hub and will drop to secondary transatlantic gateway status at the expense of JFK. JFK will probably end up becoming the primary transatlantic hub. American is probably going to get more and more slots at JFK also. And also keep in mind American over the last year or two has invested heavily into LGA. I still think even after everything is all cleared, LGA will still be American’s primary New York hub.

  33. With the A330 that US Scare had it was a great route, PAX numbers were normally OK not blinding but OK. When you look at MAN 12 months ago you had some good choice to the US, Virgin, United, AA, SIA, but now in the downturn the PAX numbers have dropped and people are looking at it longer term.
    With the B767 on an inferior product United (with Polaris), Virgin with its older UC product, and SIA with A350 had great Business class products compared to AA so if business travellers had a choice they choose the others.
    With the B787 AA had a good shot at improving the Business class experience and it did give the others a run for the money.
    At the back of the plane Virgin and SIA are the winners, so there again AA are up against it.
    Now in the current climate that business travel is limited, it makes sense that MAN is stopped, the airport is quiet and it really is seen as point to point so not great for making money.
    Places like EDI, SNN will go too, they have the same problem as again no one travelling. I can see AA comming back to MAN in 2022 as the new terminal (better customer experience), newer fuel efficent aircraft and finally business PAX will be comming back, business can not be done completly on zoom so travel will happen. PHL to MAN has a big impact for the Pharmaceutical market and even the AZ closed Alderly Park there is a big science market in the North of England, this needs the travel to PHL where US market for science is so AA will want a share of it, and as part of JV it can work.

  34. Dropping PHL-MAN was a mistake.
    The rest.. less so.
    That said, yesterday AA confirmed a 7 day a week seasonal Charlotte to Hawaii starting in May, so whoever’s in charge of operations is clearly on the sauce.

  35. Many people complaining about the 757 and how miserable it is to fly transatlantic on a norrow body, oh well.. If you think he 321 clt is goi g to feature 1-1 in business, you are wrong. It will be the same 2-2 lie flat seats, as the 757(eith seat back screen , there rows of premium economy, and a Call it a day.

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