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American reported a significantly lower profit compared to Delta and United. That could be due to its international network.

Demand for travel has shown no signs of slowing down since the pandemic, but American Airlines is underperforming when stacked up against its competitors. 

American posted a profit excluding one-off accounting adjustments of $192 million during the last three months of 2023 — considerably lower than Delta’s $826 million and United’s $664 million. 

One of the reasons for the carrier’s significantly lower profit lies in its international network. Strong demand for international travel, particularly long-haul routes to Europe and Asia, has buoyed the Big Three carriers to record profits, but American lacks the same extensive network as Delta and United. 

American CEO Robert Isom said during the carrier’s fourth-quarter earnings call that it expects to balance capacity growth between domestic and international. In addition, he said the airline is counting more on revenue from its loyalty program and co-branded credit cards. 

American executives said they are seeing more positive trends for its short-haul routes, which include flights to Mexico and the Caribbean, than long-haul ones. 

Vasu Raja, American’s chief commercial officer, said the carrier expects flat growth from transatlantic business, and performance on trans-Pacific and long-haul Latin America routes will be slightly down in 2024.

“We’re probably more encouraged by what we see in short haul than maybe any other region at this point,” Raja said. 

On the other hand, United and Delta executives said they believed there was still a high appetite for transatlantic travel

“We had a fantastic year in the transatlantic,” Delta president Glen Hauenstein said of 2023 during its fourth-quarter earnings call. “We’re hoping to beat that, but there’s a really high bar as we move through the year.”

For all three carriers, business travel is finally picking up. American, Delta and United all reported increases in corporate bookings. Isom said business travel during the fourth quarter was at around 90% of 2019 levels. 

A Comeback From the Northeast Alliance and a Blow for Boeing

After a judge struck down the Northeast Alliance, American’s partnership with JetBlue, American became even less competitive in the ultra-saturated New York market compared to Delta and United.

But now, Isom said, “the worst is behind us.” 

Isom said the carrier’s performance in New York had improved since the Northeast Alliance ruling, pointing to an increase in sign-ups for the loyalty program and co-branded credit card in the region. 

He also didn’t rule out a new potential partnership in the New York area.

“We’re certainly open to — we’re open to any partnership that is better for our customers, period, full stop,” Isom said. 

While American doesn’t operate any Boeing 737 Max 9s and wasn’t affected by the grounding, Isom didn’t hold back when it came to criticizing Boeing, joining other airline CEOs who have slammed the company in the past week over production and quality issues.

“We’re going to hold them accountable. Boeing needs to get their act together,” Isom said. “The issues that they’ve been dealing with over the recent period of time, but also going back a number of years now, is unacceptable. And no matter who it is, all of Boeing needs to come together and to get back on the right track.” 

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