It’s Business, American Airlines

a large concrete sign with a logo

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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  1. Ed, just curious …would you post a summary of the flights you took on the fast track challenge and perhaps at what point you stopped…a screen shot of the status progress? I’m doing the same fast track.

    AA 4.8mil Lifetime PLT
    Current PRO

    1. Hey, Jeff. I got to 1786 EQD and 11,600 EQMs. I had an aborted flight that was IAD-LAX that went mechanical. I had a DFW-IAD, and an IAD-CLT-DEN in the mix there. There was probably also a LAS-DCA and I think a trip to SMF thrown in there. Good luck, hope you hit the fast track!

  2. I also live in Loudoun County, VA. I avoid United if at all possible. American is a trainwreck as Ed described because of a lack of service to IAD. jetBlue bailed out of IAD becsue of sky high airport costs. (2nd highest enplanement fees in the USA after NYC) Delta is OK if you want to pay a premium and connect in Altlanta. No good options for us Dulles flyers. I find myself at DCA more often.

    1. Liberty, those high enplanement fees are due to the DCA funding debacle and general corruption of the airport organization. But, I think you knew that already. 😉
      I just can’t manage a morning DCA flight from where I live without a 4am wake-up call or a boatload of traffic. Neither of those is what I would describe as worth the price of admission (or extra time away from my family).
      Delta through DTW and MSP are likely to be my backups.

  3. Ed, How did you find the elite recognition at AA, especially compared to UA or DL? Also how much luck did you have getting AA to endorse tickets over to other carriers for you? I also signed up for the challenge, but haven’t flown AA yet. I’m also very reluctant re AA due to their more limited same day change and lack of routing changes when doing same day changes when compared to UA.

    1. Mika, I’d rate Delta highest amongst the Big Three. I’ve had good luck with elite recognition on AA over the years. But, I do know most of the AA employees at IAD and am fond of AA, so maybe a bit of a bias.
      AA used to be great at moving me to other airlines when something went wrong. It’s not quite as good as in the hey day, but I’d still rank them highly here.

  4. My flights on American have been to Phoenix and Dallas, taking advantage of the great short haul redemption rates through BA. Of my 4 AA flights this year, 1 had a mechanical delay while the others were on time, but mostly on extremely dated aircraft interiors.

    Because of my location, I actually have a more positive view on the United changes, but that is also a review on how hard it is to earn status through quick weekend trips with short flight times when based in DEN(It would take a ton).

  5. I hope you and a lot of your fellow IAD flyers switch to Delta, and with their newfound business, they decide to open a Sky Club there!

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