For a long time, airline route network planning has been one of my biggest areas of interest in commercial aviation. It could be that I am a visual learner, and a geography aficionado (I could inspect a world map for hours) but whatever the case may be, route/network planning has fascinated me for years. I love seeing how the dots connect. It’s simple, aesthetic and marvelous all at the same time.
The number of resources available on the net has confirmed my suspicions there are equally as many nut jobs out there in the world just as obsessed as I am with the subject. In particular, I enjoy frequenting departedflights.com which shows historical time tables and network maps dating back to the 1960’s.
However, for more current news, I am subscribed to Airline Route which compiles a daily report/publication featuring airline route capacity adjustments around the world, sourced from the Official Airline Guide and other Global Distribution Systems platforms such as Amadeus GDS and Sabre. Every morning, I have a nice little e-mail delivered to my inbox highlighting airline route changes, cancellations and additions, codeshares, timing adjustments, fleet/capacity changes, and other analyses which are highly instrumental pieces of information.
All around the world this week, there have been a lot of changes in global routes. Here are some highlights:
Although older news, United has officially announced its 787 launch route, which will take off from Denver International Airport (DIA) on March 31, 2013 and head for Tokyo-Narita airport. United also published last week its final seating configuration for its Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft, which will feature 35 seats in United BusinessFirst, and 183 in United Economy, the latter which will be a mix of 63 Economy Plus seats and 120 Economy seats. The BusinessFirst cabin will feature a 2 x 2 x 2 seating layout, and United Economy will be 3 x 3 x 3.
The schedule for the launch route will feature a noon departure from Denver with a mid-afternoon arrival in Tokyo the following day. On the return schedule, United will leave Tokyo at 4:40 PM and arrive in Denver at approximately 12:30 PM the same day. The flight is timed well to capture connections on both ends of the flight, which should perform well given that both Tokyo-Narita and DIA are United hub airports.
UA123 DEN1155 – 1500+1NRT 788 D
UA122 NRT1640 – 1230DEN 788 D
In a move that seemed like somewhat of a tandem, yet pre-emptive strike against the other competitor, both Fort Worth-based American Airlines and Aerolineas Argentinas announced major capacity boosts today on their Miami to Buenos Aires Ministro Pistarini Ezeiza International (EZE) flights starting this October. At present, American flies twice daily from Miami to Buenos Aires, whereas Aerolineas flies only once. Starting October 1, 2012, Aerolineas will launch a second daily flight between the two cities, and commencing October 28, 2012, American will launch a third daily flight between the same markets, representing a capacity boost of 166%.
Interestingly, not only did both announcements take place 20 minutes apart after both flights were loaded into the system, but also each of them will depart from the traditional practice of overnight flights between North America and deep South America city pairs. At present, virtually every major flight between a North American gateway city (Chicago, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Houston, Miami, Orlando, Atlanta, New York/Newark, Washington D.C., Charlotte, Toronto, Detroit, Los Angeles and Mexico City) linked to a deep South American market in Chile, Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, utilizes a “night flight” departing in the evening on both sides of the equator, and arriving in the early morning on the opposite side.
The logic behind this flight timing is due to the fact that North and South American countries generally fall within the same Worldwide Time Zones (if not the same one, then over a standard deviation of 2-3 hours difference) which is obviously in contrast to other long-haul markets in Europe, Asia, Africa and Oceania. As such, premium and frequent travelers generally enjoy the concept of flying on an 8 to 10 hour journey during their regular sleep window instead of losing an entire working day traveling. Although the downside is that the airline has to park their aircraft on the tarmac during the entire day (where it sits idly and lowers utilization rate) the sunk cost of non-utilization are recouped by the high revenue paid by passengers on these often packed flights.
At present, the only market which provides a seasonal day-flight to the US hails from high-volume São Paulo, Brazil, but Buenos Aires is soon to join that list once AA and AR commence the new flights using this schedule:
- AA999 MIA1045 – 2140EZE 777 D
- AA934 EZE1100 – 1805MIA 777 D
- AR1304 EZE0845 – 1655MIA 343 D
- AR1305 MIA1900 – 0500+1EZE 343 D
I am interested to see how these two routes will perform on the day-time segments. I find it interesting that American is deploying its largest aircraft on the daytime route, which means that American thinks there will be a premium demand for First Class on the day flight, when historically one would believe that the premium cabin demand is at its highest when the travel times are more convenient.
Moreover, it’s also interesting how both of these carriers, neither of which are in stable financial situations, are so fiercely competitive about protecting their market share on this highly lucrative route in order to see if they can stimulate more demand and hope to walk in with decent yields.
It appears that Emirates is really not going to mess around with the concept of multiple daily nonstop flights to its ultra long-haul (ULH) markets anymore.
Back in late 2010, Emirates launched a second daily service each to Los Angeles, CA and Houston, TX nonstop from its Dubai (DXB) hub, after noting the success of the initial daily services. Most people seemed intrigued by this movement given that at the time, Emirates still had not penetrated other large, under-served markets in the US, such as Miami, Chicago, Washington and Boston, yet chose instead to send more daily seats to pre-existing destinations.
However, that strategy hasn’t exactly panned out the way Emirates initially hoped. The Middle Eastern giant announced in September 2011 that it was “moving” the second daily Houston flight up to Dallas/Ft. Worth instead, and accordingly, the DFW to DXB nonstop commenced in February 2012.
The move is not surprising given that Emirates has cited that it is facing economic and operational woes in midst of the global downturn in premium demand, as well as structural issues with its Airbus A380 fleet. The Los Angeles to Dubai nonstop flight is one of the Top 10 World’s Longest flights, and while glamorous for the carrier, meeting financial performance expectations on such a route cannot come without economic challenges given fuel and personnel costs. One flight a day alone requires two airframes; therefore, 2 daily LAXDXB flights requires four dedicated planes, which sets the bar quite high.
There are also rumors that the growth of Star Alliance carriers at LAX has presented challenges for Emirates, which is unaligned with any global alliance at present. Istanbul-based Turkish Airlines has apparently found immense success on their nonstop Los Angeles-Istanbul flight, and German carrier Deutsche Lufthansa will be sending its Boeing 747-8i plane to LAX later this year. While many users of the LAX-DXB flight are Indian-bound passengers, which is EK’s primary “niche” carrying passengers over Dubai from many worldwide regions, a large portion of Middle Eastern travelers are heading to destinations heading to countries such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon, etc experience less “backtracking” if they route via Frankfurt or Istanbul instead of Dubai.
Thus, commencing August 1, 2012, less than two years after launch, EK 217 and 218 will be removed from the schedules, which currently offers a red-eye departure from Dubai and the morning return from LAX. The flights shown in bold are officially removed from the GDS after 01AUG.
EK217 DXB0230 – 0745LAX 77W D
EK215 DXB0855 – 1415LAX 77L D
EK218 LAX0945 – 1240+1DXB 77W D
EK216 LAX1645 – 1935+1DXB 77L D
Alaska Airlines announces three new domestic routes: Portland-DC, Seattle-San Antonio and San Diego-Orlando
Seattle-based Alaska Airlines has been fairly aggressive with its transcontinental expansion. The niche carrier announced that it will begin flights between three new city pairs starting in late August, including:
Portland OR – Washington Reagan eff 28AUG12 New 1 Daily service
AS764 PDX1000 – 1810DCA 73H D
AS765 DCA1740 – 2027PDX 73H D
Seattle – San Antonio eff 17SEP12 New 1 Daily service
AS688 SEA1230 – 1835SAT 73H D
AS689 SAT1925 – 2155SEA 73H D
Orlando – San Diego eff 12OCT12 New 5 weekly service
AS763 MCO0805 – 1040SAN 73H x34
AS762 SAN2235 – 0630+1MCO 73H x34
Although not an official source, airliners.net is reporting today that United is dropping its practice of displaying “direct” flights in its booking systems that operate 1-stop connections between two city pairs that include a change of planes in a middle city. For years, United, as well as other carriers, have operated domestic-to-international tag-ons that utilize this process, offering customers an itinerary such as Denver to London Heathrow, on the same flight number, but the passenger must deplane in Chicago O’Hare and switch aircraft. Usually, it is not even any different from making a regular connection other than the fact that the flight number is “marketed” as though its a nonstop flight, even though in actuality it is a “direct” flight with a plane change.
Some people are hypothesizing that United is simply eliminating this practice temporarily as it continues to smooth over some of its IT struggles since the cut over to Continental’s SHARES system (which it transitioned to from Apollo as part of the merger process). Of course, this practice is not considered “deceptive” as it contains full disclosures to the passenger about the different equipment, change of planes, necessity of undergoing immigration and customs, etc.