By Taylor Rains
American Airlines Expands Its Return to New Delhi
In response to growing travel demand between the United States and India, American Airlines has increased its flight frequency from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport to Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi. The carrier initially planned to operate the route thrice weekly during off-peak months and increase the route to daily service from Nov. 17 to Jan. 1 to serve the winter season. However, as reported by One Mile at a Time, American has modified the route to operate as a daily, year-round flight beginning Oct 31. The service is part of the carrier’s ambitious expansion out of New York-JFK and new partnership with JetBlue Airways, which it hopes will feed domestic customers into its long-haul operations.
Beginning Oct. 31, American will fly from New York-JFK to New Delhi, India, which will be the first time the carrier has served the country since 2012. The 13 hour and 50-minute outbound flight will depart New York at 2010 and arrive in New Delhi at 1930 the next day. The return will leave at 2355 and arrive at 0630 the next morning, and because it takes longer to fly west, the leg will last 16 hours and five minutes. The flight’s 0630 landing time in New York should please business travelers who tend to prefer early morning arrivals.
The carrier plans to operate the route using a Boeing 777-200 configured with 37 Flagship Business lay-flat seats, 24 premium economy recliner seats, 66 main cabin extra seats and 146 main cabin seats. Because New Delhi is a technological giant, the company expects high demand for its business class and premium economy sections. This will be good for revenue because business travelers are more likely to pay a higher fare for the convenience of a nonstop flight rather than connecting in a hub like London Heathrow or Dubai.
American’s expansion into India isn’t a new venture. As mentioned earlier, the airline had a Chicago to New Delhi route up until 2012, but it was unprofitable. One primary reason for the route’s loss was the high operation fees imposed by the Indian government. These fees will more than likely be charged for the new routes, so travelers should expect fares to hold steady, even with American entering the market. However, whether or not these fees will make or break the route’s profitability is still uncertain.
The route to New Delhi is in addition to the Seattle-Bangalore route launching on Oct. 30. It was initially set to start in October 2020 but was postponed due to the pandemic. The nonstop flight will be the third active route to connect Bangalore with North America – United Airlines being the first out of San Francisco. Air India will also serve Bangalore from San Francisco starting July 3, directly competing with United.
According to American, there is high demand for India’s bustling technological city, especially from the carrier’s lucrative corporate agreements. Bangalore also happens to be one of the highest yield markets in South Asia, and Seattle and San Francisco are huge IT hubs with large populations of Indian Americans. So it makes sense that American, Air India and United are responding to the growing market demand, and it’s likely this is just the beginning of US-India connectivity.
While the expansion is good for business, Visiting-Friends-and-Family (VFR) and leisure traffic, India is still suffering from a significant COVID-19 surge. As a result, the US has banned passengers who have been in the country in the past 14 days, except for citizens, permanent residents and a select few other travelers. However, according to the New York Times’ COVID-19 update, the vaccine works extremely well against the Delta variant, which has been tormenting India, and continues to vastly reduce the number of cases and nearly eliminate the possibility of death. This is good news going into the summer months, where many places are starting to get back to normal. If India can ramp up its vaccination rate, its probable travel restrictions will be lifted, allowing traffic between the two nations to return.
In the past, American’s nonstop service between the US and India failed. However, the carrier’s new partnership with JetBlue Airways will allow domestic passengers on JetBlue to feed into American’s long-haul flights out of New York, including New Delhi. The codeshare has fueled American’s expansion out of JFK, where it had been shrinking even before the pandemic. The carrier has already launched four international routes this year, including Athens, Rio de Janeiro, Santiago and Tel Aviv, and the feed from JetBlue is likely to create more. Hopefully, the partnership will open doors to other major Indian cities with high business demand, like Mumbai or the underserved Hyderabad.
American’s expansion into India is mostly thanks to its Northeast Partnership with JetBlue. The airline expects to see a similar load factor to its original Chicago-New Delhi route and hopes the domestic feed from JetBlue will increase its long-haul traffic, although it is too soon to say if the JetBlue strategy will work.
Nevertheless, American appears to be setting itself up well on both the East Coast and West Coast. The company’s Indian service may have failed in the past, but its domestic codeshares may drive success for its international network. In particular, its partnership with Alaska Airlines in Seattle has opened opportunities for long-haul travel to Asia and the Middle East, and its rapid expansion out of New York suggests it will do the same out of the Northwest.