American Airlines to upgrade planes and hubs, including Charlotte Douglas

An American Airlines jet sports the company’s new tail design at Chicago’s O’Hare airport.
An American Airlines jet sports the company’s new tail design at Chicago’s O’Hare airport. Getty

A year into its merger with US Airways, American Airlines is planning $2 billion worth of upgrades to its planes and hub airports, the company said Monday.

The upgrades to hubs, including Charlotte Douglas International Airport, will include renovated Admirals Clubs airline lounges, new kiosks to speed check-in and work tables with power outlets to charge devices in waiting areas.

Charlotte is American’s second-busiest hub, after Dallas/Fort Worth. The carrier operates more than 90 percent of daily flights at Charlotte Douglas since it merged with US Airways a year ago Tuesday.

“A year or so ago, before the merger, there were questions by some about what it would mean for Charlotte,” American Airlines CEO Doug Parker told the Observer. “I remember having to go around ... convincing people this merger would be good for Charlotte. I know there were some concerns in the community.”

Parker said the airline’s investments in its hubs show it’s committed to maintaining service, and he said Charlotte has performed well financially for the airline.

“Charlotte is as important to the combined carrier as ever,” Parker said. “Charlotte is doing even better for the company as part of the American Airlines network than it did as part of the US Airways network.”

Since the merger, American has added a second daily flight between Charlotte and London Heathrow Airport, as well as new nonstop flights to several Midwest destinations. But the airline has reduced some other international flying, cutting flights from Charlotte to Brazil and hinting at plans to cut some new seasonal routes, such as those to Barcelona and Brussels, which it started this year.

American still faces big challenges and technical hurdles to integrating the world’s largest airline. The merger’s second year will be crucial: American expects to receive a single operating certificate, allowing it to fully integrate and start phasing out the US Airways name.

The carrier plans to combine its reservations systems and its frequent flyer programs, both complex operations with the potential for massive disruption if something goes wrong. And American still must reach unified labor agreements with its pilot and flight attendant work groups, an issue that threatens to become increasingly contentious if it drags out.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Parker said.

In the air, American plans to add more new planes as it refreshes its fleet and to upgrade seats, entertainment and power outlet options on its large jets.

Here are some of the upgrades to airplanes and hubs American detailed on Monday:

• Remodeled Admirals Clubs, with “refurbished restroom and shower facilities, toiletry amenities, and improved technology.” There will also be more food options, including Greek yogurt and oatmeal, “hearty soup offerings in every club, crudités and desserts.”

• New, faster kiosks at check-in counters, as well as in gate areas to help with boarding passes and upgrades.

• Work tables with 12 power outlets and seating for eight people positioned near gates, so fliers can work and charge their devices before flights.

• Updates to the interiors of many planes, including seatback entertainment systems, a walk-up bar and new business class seats on the Boeing 777-200; power ports and lie-flat business seats on trans-Atlantic Boeing 757s; all new seats, more power ports and 24 more spacious “main cabin extra” seats on the Airbus A319, which offer more space, for a fee; and in-flight satellite connectivity and business class lie-flat seats on the Boeing 767-300.

• The airline’s new Boeing 737s, 777-300s, 787s, Airbus A321s and retrofitted A319s will have power ports in every row to plug in devices.

Not every upgrade the airline is planning or has implemented will benefit Charlotte Douglas. Although American has added a luxury service to transfer elite travelers from one flight to another on the tarmac in high-end cars at Los Angeles, Dallas/Fort Worth and New York’s JFK and LaGuardia airports, Parker indicated that might not be coming to Charlotte soon.

“I don’t know yet,” Parker said. “We’ll see how it goes.”

About half American’s 650 daily flights from Charlotte are on regional jets operated as American Eagle or US Airways Express service. Many of American’s upgrades announced Monday will apply to larger, “mainline” jets. But Parker said the airline’s regional carriers are also upgrading their fleets, and more regional flights will have wireless Internet and operate on larger Embraer 175 jets in the coming years.

Charlotte Douglas also opened its new hourly parking deck last month, providing 4,000 new public parking spaces across from the terminal. The airport plans to refurbish the terminal, build a new domestic concourse north of Concourse A and expand the terminal roadway to eight lanes in the coming years.

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