Playing arm-chair airline CEO is fun, to be sure. Looking at the operations, competition and other factors and trying to figure out where things should be adjusted, augmented or cut. For the new American Airlines there has been plenty of speculation about the future of the carrier’s nine domestic hubs. Following the Delta/Northwest merger cuts were made, with the eventual de-hubbing of Memphis and significant cuts at Cincinnati. With United/Continental it was Cleveland which got the axe. And no one really knows what’s on the horizon for American, but there is plenty of speculation. Here’s a bit more fuel for that fire.
The carrier published a “rollcall” for the hubs, identifying the strengths that airport brings to the network as a whole. And it is somewhat telling with respect to the value the company sees in each hub.
Only Philadelphia, Miami and Charlotte are explicitly identified as connecting points for international partners. That’s not to say that the other hubs have no connectivity, of course, but those three see a greater share of connections for partner travel. Is the implication that New York, DFW and Chicago are more O/D traffic, more passengers just flying American rather than partners or something else?
DCA, DFW and ORD get solid marks for connecting business travelers onward while NYC and LAX are identified as markets unto themselves, though there is also a nod to the connections those airports provide. The split across LGA/JFK is acknowledged and that can create some issues for connecting passengers, but that’s why Philly, Miami, Charlotte, Chicago and Dallas are seen as great connecting gateways.
And then there’s Phoenix. Not only does it get the shortest description, but also perhaps the saddest.
Connects customers from coast to coast and to leisure destinations in North America.
So, not a huge O/D market and not a lot of business travelers. That rarely bodes well for yields. Sure, the airline needs capacity to push connecting leisure passengers through, too. But if that can be consolidated elsewhere then the role of Phoenix can be usurped pretty quickly. And for coast-to-coast travel American already identified ORD and DFW as alternatives. Those are alternates which can also offer international feed. Phoenix is in the wrong location and wrong climate to be a great base for intercontinental service so that’s not likely to go so well.
At this point it is hard to believe that Phoenix has a long life ahead as a hub. Maybe a few years into the merger to get through the integration and shake out the rest of things before cuts like that get made. And maybe it does survive, growing as a connection point for some traffic which cannot get in to LAX because of capacity constraints. But that doesn’t seem too likely to me. Especially not when this is the best they can come up with for why it is a useful operation.
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