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Changes at AA

According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, American Airlines is dramatically changing how it operates. In addition to reducing capacity, phasing out some aircraft, and eliminating first class on some overseas routes, AA is overhauling its hub-and-spoke system:

Beginning in November, the carrier will reschedule its massive Dallas-Fort Worth hub to remove the peaks and valleys and plan a continuous flow of jets, something American has already experimented with in Chicago with cost-saving results.

Instead of flying waves of airplanes -- 50 or 60 at a time -- into hub airports all within 20 minutes of each other, American will spread out its flights at its Dallas operation. It's called a "rolling hub" in industry jargon. Instead of planes sitting at gates while passengers scurry about, passengers will have to sit longer. Planes will come in, unload and refill with a load of passengers already waiting at the airport. Connections as long as an hour and a half may be more routine.

The change in hub operation represents a psychological shift from running the airline to generate the most revenue to running the airline more cost-effectively, even if it means less-efficient trips for passengers. In the past, airlines were loath to have longer connection times because flights were listed in travel agents' computers by elapsed time, with the quickest connections listed at the top of screens. Itineraries with longer connections didn't sell as well. Now, online booking tools and search engines most often list flights by price, not time. What's more, with delays and the cutback in food on flights, travelers often prefer a longer connection time so they can grab meals...

American's president, Gerard Arpey, says the new schedule will allow the carrier to offer the same number of flights with 17 fewer airplanes and fewer gates -- a huge savings. Pilots and flight attendants will be more productive because they will spend less time sitting at the terminal. Already at Chicago, the amount of times flights spend taxiing has been reduced because of less congestion. American used to have longer taxi times than United; now American has shorter times.

Speaking as someone who has done a fair bit of flying -- I have over 1.4 million miles lifetime with AA -- this doesn't strike me as necessarily a bad thing for travelers. Sure, given a choice, I'd rather have a direct flight with no connection at all. But given that I do have a stop, lengthening it by 30-60 minutes could actually be helpful. AA's Admirals Clubs are equipped with T-Mobile's 802.11 networks now, which makes them ideal places to send all the e-mails I've written on the first leg of my trip. Sometimes, though, the connection is so rushed that I barely have time to connect, then check and send mail. A little more time would help.

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