Reader afterbang asks,
Why are there so few true international flights arriving / departing from PHX? There is Mexico/Canada/Alaska/Hawaii, but those don’t count. Nothing all the way to Asia or Oceania. There is exactly one transatlantic flight – [British Airways Phoenix – London] with $900 fuel surcharges.
Phoenix is the 6th largest US city with 1.5 million people. I saw they have a subsidy incentive for the airlines to launch new service. What gives?
In a story I heard from more than one person at the time, a couple of years ago Doug Parker and Tom Horton were making the rounds of American’s bases and they had a talk with Los Angeles-based pilots.
One question for Parker was about adding transpacific flying from Los Angeles. He said that wasn’t on the table. You don’t want to tell your pilots they don’t get more flying, if you want them to be happy.
Horton jumped into the conversation to rescue Parker saying that they had just added Asia flying (Seoul, Hong Kong) and they needed to evaluate how those flights were doing before they made additional decisions.
Later in the discussion Parker circled back to this question and mentioned off the cuff that they might add more transpacific flying after all… from Phoenix. You don’t tell your legacy American pilots that the US Airways pilots will get the good new flying. And this statement made absolutely no sense.
American adds transpacific flying from Los Angeles, because there’s more passengers there flying to Asia than from Phoenix which has virtually no origination/destination (non-stop) traffic to Asian cities. With hubs in both locations, you feed your Los Angeles flights, you don’t compete in the more lucrative non-stop market by having your premium traffic route Eastward through Phoenix.
Phoenix doesn’t have more international service because size of the city alone is far from a determining factor for international air service.
Here are some of the key elements:
- How big is a city, but more importantly how big is the overall metropolitan area unserved by other more convenient airports?
- How much international traffic is there from that area, and more importantly how much premium business travel?
- Does the primary carrier in a city have partners which fly to the largest international destination(s) from the city? For instance, United operates a hub in Denver and their Star Alliance and joint venture partner Lufthansa flies from there to Frankfurt.
- Who operates major service, and what opportunities does the rest of their route network provide? In Phoenix the dominant carrier is US Airways, which focused on Philadelphia (and to a lesser extent Charlotte) for transatlantic flying. Operating transatlantic flights from Phoenix might have made some of those existing flights unprofitable, and they didn’t have any transpacific routes. Now, post-merger with American, if they’re going to add a transpacific flight it’s much more likely to be from Los Angeles (with greater non-stop traffic) and Phoenix and the two airports are too close to each other to support both.
- Do those carriers have aircraft appropriate to the mission? For instance, I used to be surprised by the lack of Hawaii service from alternate airports in California offered by United. I thought they could pull off Orange County – Hawaii, for instance. But they weren’t going to make that run with their fleet of Airbus A319s and 320s, and didn’t have the modern 737s prior to the Continental merger to operate it. The Boeing 787 opens up lots of possibilities and explains why we get Austin – London on British Airways and Denver – Tokyo on United… it’s a smaller, more fuel efficient plane that has the range for transoceanic flying.
- What’s the cargo market like? An airline may fly a route because of substantial cargo, even if passenger demand is lighter.
San Antonio is a bigger city than Dallas, but not a bigger metro area and it doesn’t have the non-stop business travel that Dallas has. Indianapolis and Jacksonville are bigger cities than San Francisco proper — but the overall metro San Francisco area is bigger, it’s a prime business city, and a significant destination for Asia especially.
El Paso is a bigger city than Washington DC. But DC gets flights because of its importance — plenty of people flying in to lobby the US federal government, it’s a tourist destination too, and there’s a Northern Virginia tech community. Etihad flies to Dulles not because of the profits it can earn on the route, but to connect the capital of the UAE with the capital of the US. This is common.
Where is high yield business travel going from Phoenix? The airlines don’t think there’s enough of it to justify non-stop flying to Europe or to Asia, and Phoenix is convenient for connections to Los Angeles, Houston, and Dallas.