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American Airlines schedule changes could bring more flights to CLT

American Airlines’ recent announcement that it plans to cut 10 flights from Washington’s Reagan National Airport to Southeast destinations could bring more flights to Charlotte’s airport, analysts say.

American is giving up the flights as part of a settlement with the Justice Department last year allowing the carrier to close its merger with US Airways. Antitrust officials required the combined company give up flights at Reagan National and New York’s LaGuardia Airport to increase competition.

The combined company will discontinue service from Reagan National to Fayetteville, Wilmington, Jacksonville, N.C., and Myrtle Beach, as well as six other cities in Arkansas and Florida. An exact date for ending service hasn’t been set, and will depend on when other carriers buy the flight slots from American.

Those cuts present more opportunities for American to send more connecting passengers through Charlotte Douglas International Airport en route to those destinations.

“As they take down a lot of the connecting complex at Reagan, naturally Charlotte will benefit,” said Bill Swelbar, an aviation consultant with InterVISTAS. “It’s probably more efficient to (connect) over Charlotte. It’s a critical hub to serve the Southeast U.S.”

A US Airways spokesman said there aren’t any plans to send more connecting traffic through Charlotte yet. Schedule changes related to the Reagan airport move will likely take six months or so to finalize. But the company said it will connect customers to Reagan National “through connecting flights from one or more of the airline’s other eight hubs.”

Aviation consultant Bob Mann said Charlotte Douglas is the most natural city for those passengers to go through. “All those smaller Florida markets, the coastal markets, the lower East Coast – all candidates for routing through Charlotte,” he said.

Doug Parker, American’s CEO, said during the run-up to the merger that he expected to add flights at Charlotte Douglas as a result of the deal. Charlotte Douglas could see about 700 daily flights from the combined airline, up from around 650 now.

Connecting passengers are often beneficial for airports because they provide revenue without requiring much investment in expensive infrastructure. For example, connecting passengers can walk through the terminal, buy lunch, shop and board their flights without the airport needing to build them parking decks, ticket counters and security lanes.

Charlotte Douglas has the highest proportion of connecting traffic of any major hub: More than three quarters of its 41 million annual passengers are connecting, not starting or ending their trip in Charlotte. That’s one reason the airport has the lowest cost per passenger for the airlines out of any major airport.

Charlotte Douglas is the most heavily dominated major hub airport, with the combined US Airways-American accounting for about 90 percent of daily flights.

Portillo: 704-358-5041; Twitter: @ESPortillo
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