American Airlines is hosting a press conference on Wednesday, January 20, at the world-famous Hollywood Bowl, and AirlineReporter has been invited to attend this special “preview” for the media.
The hook from the invitation: there will be “some very exciting announcements to unveil about their continued growth and expansion in Los Angeles, including new services, partnerships, and programs that will be rolled out in 2016 at LAX and citywide!”
What could this mean? Does American have some big news for flyers… or will it be all fluff and circumstance?
American seems to be taking a page out of the playbook of oneworld partner Qatar Airways on hosting a big event at a fancy LA-area venue. There have been whispers of what will be announced, but what is clear is that this will have a very L.A.-centric focus, in terms of new routes, service, and offerings. While nothing is confirmed yet, the “big one” everyone is wondering about is whether there will be new service from Los Angeles to Hong Kong, most prominently rumored all the way back last November by Twitter user @xJonNYC, who also posts as JonNYC on the TravelingBetter and Flyertalk travel forums.
Can't imagine it would/will shock anyone; it now appears a certainty that AA will announce LAX-HKG service next year.
— JonNYC (@xJonNYC) November 30, 2015
If LAX-HKG nonstop is the main announcement, then it’s been one of the most speculated about rumors recently. What’s been up in the air is what equipment will be used, though JonNYC confirmed, and Ben Schlappig from One Mile at a Time points out, that it makes logical sense for American to use their flagship Boeing 777-300ER (77W) to complement the utilization schedule of the same 77W flown from Dallas to Hong Kong, which currently sits on the tarmac in Hong Kong for 19 long hours overnight. With a late-night departure from LAX, it would be possible to have two different planes on the ground at HKG for a total of only eight hours, avoiding expensive overnight parking at the out-station.
American’s 777-300ERs are configured with first, business, and economy seats, with a section of economy having a less dense setup for an additional fee or with elite status.
What’s also interesting is that the only other airline flying the route is oneworld partner Cathay Pacific, which flies 4x-daily from LAX to its home base, including two late-night departures. Unlike what American and Qantas has on the Los Angeles-Sydney route, American and Cathay Pacific do not have joint venture immunity in place, meaning that they are effectively competitors and not allowed to actively cooperate or legally collude on flight scheduling or setting fares.
Making this tale-of-the-tape even more intriguing are the offerings both carriers have in each of their classes.
- First: Cathay Pacific is recognized as having one of the best first class products in the world, in both hard and soft product. American’s first class has improved over the last few years, but most flyers agree that it’s still not at the same standard as other international carriers. Most telling is that American has eight seats in the first class cabin, whereas Cathay chose to only install six seats in the same space.
- Business: Here, things are very much even. Both American and Cathay offer almost the exact seat in business; in fact, American licensed the seat from Cathay, who owns the rights to the design. Unfortunately for Cathay, while American is catching up in food quality, Cathay has suffered numerous complaints about a severe decline in quality in the past year, including from yours truly on two recent flights (reviews to be posted soon!).
- Premium economy: Cathay offers these better-than-economy seats in a 2-4-2 configuration with extra legroom and recline, as well as upgraded food. Currently, Cathay wins this category by default, as American does not yet offer a separate premium economy cabin anywhere in its fleet, only a regular economy seat with more room (see below).However, American recently revealed that a dedicated premium economy product, the first for a U.S.-based carrier, will be offered before the end of 2016; could this press conference also be used to announce the debut of their premium economy on their Hong Kong routes from both Dallas and Los Angeles?
- Economy: Overall, Cathay wins even in economy because it retains nine-abreast seating, whereas American puts ten-across in the back (though they do have a “Main Cabin Extra” section for their elites and purchasers, with extra legroom and only nine seats across).
If I’m reading my tea leaves correctly, this is what I think will be announced on Wednesday, relating to Hong Kong service:
- The confirmation of LAX-HKG, probably to start towards the end of this year;
- The Boeing 777-300ER will be used on this new route;
- The official premier of the premium economy seats, with an example available at the event for viewing and testing;
- The announcement that this new premium economy section will debut on the HKG routes from/to LAX and DFW.
It sounds like other routes out of LAX (likely domestic… Seattle and Portland, anyone?) and partnerships will also be announced at the same time. In fact, it seems that a partnership between American and The Hollywood Reporter has already been confirmed, giving the airline inroads to the Hollywood entertainment industry.
Tune in to @AirlineReporter on Twitter on Wednesday, January 20 from 11am to 1pm PST, as I livetweet from the American Airlines press conference, using hashtag the #BestinLAX.
A previous version of this story mistakenly listed the incorrect date of the press conference, which is on Wednesday, January 20.