What is the fastest growing airline in the biggest U.S. market? Vasu Raja, American Airlines chief revenue officer, had an answer on American’s earnings call Thursday. noting, “American and JetBlue together is the fastest growing airline in the whole Northeast corridor.”
Like the other two U.S. global airlines, American has thrown capacity at domestic and short haul international leisure destinations this summer while awaiting the restart of business flying and the reopening of long-haul international flying —particularly to the United Kingdom, which appears likely within months. Those strategies are similar.
However, during the pandemic, American, Delta and United have sought to remake themselves in different ways. Among the famous quotations from Winston Churchill, cited recently by United CEO Scott Kirby as an inspiration, is this one: “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” In their responses, the carriers have taken different paths.
American cemented alliances with JetBlue and Alaska, boosting its presence in the Northeast and West Coast, where it was the weakest of the three global carriers. Delta uniquely kept its middle seat open for about a year, farther boosting its credentials as the premium U.S. airline.
United, under a new CEO who took over in May 2020, seemed to focus on improving its image with customers and its relationship with pilots. United articulated new policies to increase diversity among new pilots and pursue ambitious carbon reduction goals, while its negotiations with its pilots union generally seemed to accommodate both sides. Also, like American and Delta, it voiced support for voter equity and drew harsh critiques as a result.
Executives of the three carriers discussed their crisis responses on earnings calls during the past week.
On the Delta call on April 15th, President Glen Hauenstein said the airline lost $100 million to $150 million in revenue by not selling middle seats in March. Delta will end the policy, which it began early in the pandemic and pursued longer than any other airline, on May 1. Delta has long sought to distinguish itself by a revenue premium.
“Our brand came out of this very strong,” Hauenstein said. “If we had the choice of whether to do it again, we would do it in a heartbeat.”
For United, “A key pillar of returning to new is changing how customers feel about United, so they choose to fly United,” Kirby said on the April 20th call. Besides operational improvements, the carrier has sought to promote its commitment to the environment and diversity.
As for strategic changes, Kirby said United has altered its approach in Latin America. “We’re going to take our Latin system from very Houston-centric to more diversified across the entire United network,” he said. “We’ve taken the opportunity in the recent months and going forward to diversify that portfolio to now include more out of Los Angeles, Washington and New York and our intention is to keep that.”
Regarding American’s new Northeast Alliance with JetBlue, the carriers on Wednesday announced 24 new routes including JFK-New Delhi on American, thrice-weekly starting Oct. 31. Additionally, on November 2, American will add Boston to Cincinnati, St. Louis and Toronto, as well as LaGuardia to Houston, Oklahoma City and Omaha.
Meanwhile, JetBlue will add 17 new routes including Boston to San Antonio, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Vancouver, Asheville; JFK to San Pedro Sula, Puerto Vallarta, Kansas City, Milwaukee, and Vancouver, and six domestic routes from LaGuardia. Earlier, JetBlue added JFK-Boise, starting in July.
Raja cited JFK-Boise and Boston-Cincinnati as examples of routes enabled by the alliance. They are “services that American Airlines wouldn’t have thought possible and JetBlue wouldn’t have thought possible,” he said. “JetBlue is now our largest global code share partner.”