American Airlines is cutting back on flights from Chicago to China and Japan this fall, saying it couldn’t keep flying money-losing routes at a time when fuel costs are high.
American’s daily nonstop flights from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport to Shanghai will end in late October, the airline said Tuesday. Daily flights between Chicago and Tokyo will be cut back to three days per week in December.
Fort Worth, Texas-based American previously had announced plans to end nonstop flights between Chicago and Beijing in late October, saying it plans to seek permission to fly to Beijing’s new international airport, expected to open next year.
American remains enthusiastic about both Chicago and Asia, but “the two China routes, and to a lesser degree Tokyo, have been colossal loss leaders for us,” Vasu Raja, vice president of network and schedule planning, said in an interview on the airline’s podcast.
Chicago is a “very profitable hub,” Raja said. The airline has been carrying more passengers through the city and does not plan to reduce overall capacity there, he said.
But there isn’t enough demand to sustain the China routes, American said. Neither the Chicago-to-Shanghai nor the Chicago-to-Beijing route has been profitable since launching in 2006 and 2010, respectively, airline spokeswoman Leslie Scott said.
Scott said American also was at a disadvantage in Chicago because it had to continue operating daily nonstop flights to Shanghai and Beijing or risk losing the right to offer those flights. U.S. carriers must seek government approval to operate flights to certain countries, including China. American, which got approval for its flights between Chicago and China after some of its rivals, had less flexibility to scale back flights when demand slowed, she said.
American has asked the U.S. Department of Transportation for a waiver that would allow the airline to resume flying between Chicago and Shanghai and Beijing when economic conditions improve.
In the meantime, the airline wants to focus on its Asia flights from hubs in Dallas, where travelers can connect to destinations in Latin America, and Los Angeles, which attracts passengers throughout the West Coast, Scott said.
American and partner carrier Japan Airlines collectively will still have nonstop flights between Chicago and Tokyo 10 times per week, and during the peak season between June and August next summer, Japan Airlines will add flights so the carriers will together offer twice-daily flights, American said.
American’s biggest competitor at O’Hare, United Airlines, said its service between Chicago and Asia continues to meet expectations.
“We are pleased with the performance of our flights between Chicago and Asia and remain firmly committed to providing our customers nonstop, daily, year-round service between our Chicago hub and Asia, including Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Tokyo,” said Jonathan Guerin, a spokesman for Chicago-based United.
China Eastern Airlines also has direct flights between O’Hare and Shanghai and Hainan Airlines offers nonstop flights to Beijing.
American’s reductions in service between Chicago and Asia were part of a broader slate of changes it announced Tuesday, including nine new routes between the U.S. and Europe starting next summer.
In Chicago, American will have seasonal daily flights to Athens, Greece, starting May 3, making it the only carrier to fly between O’Hare and Athens, according to the airline. It is also ending seasonal daily flights between Chicago and Manchester, England, in early September.
“American Airlines has demonstrated its commitment to investing in the future of O’Hare and continues steady growth in this market. … The addition of first-ever nonstop service to Athens stands to further increase Chicago’s leading global connectivity, and is expected to deliver a $45 million annual economic impact for the city,” Chicago Department of Aviation spokeswoman Lauren Huffman said in an emailed statement.