Yes, American really is that far behind in Asia (sorry, Cranky)

Cranky Flier has a post out this morning suggesting that American Airlines really isn’t so weak in Asia. There are some interesting numbers in the post, and he does a good job of explaining how he got to those numbers. I’m a fan of that in many ways. Except for the part where I think he’s completely messing up where it really matters. He only considers flights between the US mainland and anywhere in Asia. That makes sense because that’s mostly where the business matters. But where he screws up, to me, is this assumption:

Lastly, I’m including joint venture flights operated by ANA under United and by JAL under American, because since it’s a joint venture, those flights should be considered their own. Sure, there is work to be done before the experience is seamless, but the path is there.

It is a nice theory, but it just doesn’t work. None of the three alliances have figured out the right way to run these JVs as though they are integrated operations. Mileage earning rules are mostly standardized now and fares are generally fixed. But operationally there are still differences. Ditto for things like frequent flyer benefits and recognition. Upgrades, for example, happen very differently (if at all) on partners.

The other thing overlooked is that coverage isn’t only about frequencies. Including JV partners American has service to Tokyo (NRT & HND), Seoul, Beijing and Shanghai. Both United Airlines and Delta have additional Japan destinations and United also has Hong Kong. And if the JV flights are excluded the number of gateways on the US side are notably higher for Delta and United.

American has some service in Asia. But they are nowhere close to the other two major players, especially on their own metal.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. I was one of ? people recently invited by AA to,participate in a community survey about my thoughts on various subjects including eVIP (systemwide) upgrades. I mentioned that for a recent trip from Singapore (where I live) to the US my experience speaks to AA’s weaknesses:

    To get from SIN to an AA connecting flight I had to fly Japan Air. The scheduled dictated that I fly the day before and stay at a Narita hotel. The Japan Air 6.5 hour flight was not upgradeable.

    On the return the schedule dictated that I land at Narita and then pick up my luggage, clear immigration, buy a $35 bus ticket, and then transfer to Haneda where I had to check in as if I were just starting my journey. My Japan Air flight was several hours later and in economy again since my upgrade was not applicable.

    The total cost was more than $2,000 and the Japan Air flights didn’t even earn 100% base mileage credit. Certainly they didn’t earn any elite mileage bonus.

    Contrast AA with UA who directly serve SIN.

    My upgrade covers me from SIN to the US. Schedules are aligned so that I can be a transit passenger in NRT with minimal time on the ground. I earn 100% mileage credit and a 100% elite bonus. Cost is ~$1,700.

    In response to my survey answer another participant wrote “you have to take advantage of One World partners.” She obviously was not familiar with reality.

    If AA/JP would address the above competitive deficiencies I’d gladly fly with them.

  2. Totally agree with your points, WA. Flying on JV partners has major disadvantages compared to flying on the metal where you are elite, especially in areas like IRROPS, upgrades, and lifetime status earning. The JV partner treats its own elites well, but if you are not elite with them, you are really treated like nobody (e.g. my downgrade on LH.) And in many cases you cannot even check-in to the partner’s flights and have to get BPs en-route which can cause you to misconnect if there are lines.

    Cranky seems to never place any value on elite benefits, and I think he’s wrong on that score.

  3. It sure would be nice if AA built up a hub somewhere in Asia. KIX or ICN maybe? A stronger foothold in Asia would be a good idea for them. Who knows…maybe that’s their plan w/ all those new 777s and 787s?

    1. Chances of AA building up anything resembling a hub in Asia are very, very close to zero. Getting rights for the onward flights is unlikely to happen. Delta and United have them from treaties negotiated decades ago and passed down through mergers and bankruptcies. It is not likely such opportunities will arise again any time soon.

    1. In short, anything involving operations outside the home country of the airline requires a treaty between the nations involved. For any US-based carrier to fly to Japan they need rights from the US and Japanese authorities to do so. That’s why the airlines do things like fight over who gets the new Haneda slots or service to mainland China. Access to Heathrow – not just the UK market or London but the specific airport – was regulated by the Bermuda II treaty until that was superseded by the (mostly) open skies treaty that was signed by EU nations and the USA.

      To operate flights onward from Japan AA would need permission from the Japanese government to do so. And permission from the authorities at whatever country they’d be flying to. Sometimes that is easy to get and other times not so much. But I doubt there would be much of a chance of AA getting 50 slots anywhere in Asia for onward traffic.

      I also doubt it is worth that much. If passengers want to connect in Tokyo or Seoul they already can. Getting non-stop service in key markets and skipping the connections is where the higher yields come into play. And that’s what the airlines really want.

  4. Agree that JV does not benefit the consumers, but only the airlines themselves, which is what appears the POV Cranky is writing from.

    If the airline is making money, while someone else is delivering all the work on their dime, why should the airline be concerned? It’s the same how UA was using Aer Lingus on the IAD-MAD route.

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