For many years I was a very loyal American Airlines flyer. Dating back to my father’s patronage of the airline (and one of their acquisitions, TWA) in the 90s, American Airlines was where our family turned when we needed to travel somewhere.
As I started a career that put me on the road, I chose American Airlines. For over a decade I held some level of elite status with American Airlines. Ten of those years were at American’s top level of Executive Platinum. Their loyalty program, treatment of elites and even a plane that some folks never really liked were all reasons I continued to fly.
The airline evolved along with Delta and United. The loyalty program became less rewarding. And, American Airlines began a gradual reduction in service to my home airport of Washington-Dulles
American Airlines At Washington-Dulles
At one point, American had a decent network of flights from IAD. Along with flights to hubs in Chicago, Miami, DFW and Los Angeles, they also had connections to places like Puerto Rico, where American used to have a sizable Caribbean operation.
Much of that is gone now. I see four nonstop flights to DFW, one to LAX and seven to Charlotte. Nothing to hubs like Chicago, Philadelphia or Phoenix.
And yet, I decided that it would be a good idea to take advantage of the status challenge American Airlines announced as part of their new partnership with Hyatt. The flying requirement wasn’t significant in the face of my standard business travel. I figured I’d give it a swing. After all, I’ve moved most of my connecting flights off of United because their Wi-Fi is just atrocious. Why couldn’t American serve as that secondary airline for me?
Waving The White Flag
It didn’t take long. Just a few flights in, I’ve given up on American Airlines as a backup carrier and abandoned the challenge. I had a mechanical delay that set me back almost four hours on one flight. I encountered a weather delay on the most recent flight. Weather delays are unavoidable, and I don’t blame American for it. However, without much in the way of options when things go sideways, I’m essentially trapped at Dulles during irregular operations unless I can convince American to move the ticket to another airline.
No Midwest Connection
DFW is just not a reliable connecting option on its own. Set aside the weather issues there. Getting anywhere in the midwest from DC if you’re connecting in Dallas is impossible without eating up the entire day. Charlotte offers almost all regional jet service from IAD, with the exception of one narrow body frequency right now. And, the banks don’t line up well for efficient connecting times to many destinations.
The Final Two Pennies
I continue to be surprised that American has not a single nonstop flight to Miami or Chicago from Dulles. Same for Philadelphia and Phoenix. It’s ranked in the top 25 airports in the US, by passenger count with over 11 million passengers annually.
American’s strategy is to bet heavy on Reagan National Airport for DC-area travelers. I live in Loudoun County, one of the most affluent counties in the country. It’s also a hike from National Airport, especially given the traffic in the region. Loudoun County is home to 400,000 residents. Many of those folks get on airplanes quite a bit and live further from DCA than IAD.
With United Airlines’ strategy to make elite status much more expensive, one would think there’s a strategy to poach some of those travelers. For American, growth at Washington-Dulles just doesn’t seem to be in the cards.
For me, it also means an easy business decision. It should have been an easy decision prior to the challenge. Maybe I let my fond memories of American Airlines temporarily cloud my decision-making. In the end, it’s not personal. It’s just business.
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