American Airlines eliminates SFO-Honolulu

American Airlines jet departing SFO. (Credit: Jun Seita / Flickr)
American Airlines jet departing SFO. (Credit: Jun Seita / Flickr)

Despite its fancy new digs at SFO’s Terminal 2, American Airlines continues to reduce the number of cities it serves from San Francisco.

On September 7, the Texas-based carrier will eliminate its nonstop flights between San Francisco and Honolulu. This follows a decision to cut out nonstops between SFO and Boston last November.

After Sept 7, American will have 31 daily round trips into and out of SFO: 11 to Dallas/Ft Worth; six to Chicago O’Hare; five (four on off-peak days) to New York-JFK; three to Miami; and six to LAX.

American spokesman Tim Smith said that the move is not directly related to any particular issue in San Francisco. “It remains a key city for us or we obviously would not have become involved in the new terminal and built a new, state-of-the-art Admirals Club that just opened. 31 flights a day makes it an important destination/departure city in terms of being a non-hub.”

The move is a result of American’s 2009 decision to concentrate domestic flying at what it calls its hub or “cornerstone cities:” Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami and New York. Nearly all its domestic now flying touches those cities in some way.

“As to the SFO-HNL flight itself, since it is a point-to-point flight between two non-hub cities, there is generally not enough traffic on both ends to fully support the flight,” said Smith. “That means we have had to find ways to feed traffic bound for Honolulu into SFO. Under the cornerstone plan it is much more efficient and cost effective to feed traffic to HNL from our cornerstone hubs where we have lots of daily feed [from other cities]. So, as of Sept. 7, we will fly from HNL  3x daily from LAX; 2x daily from DFW; and 1 from ORD (but not every day – it will be 4 times per week). This gives us either 5 or 6 round trips per day to and from HNL from the U.S. mainland.” he said.

What’s happening with American’s flights at SFO is happening throughout the airline industry as airlines grapple with higher fuel costs. “We’re past the point of airlines flying routes out of a sense of vanity or pride. If a route doesn’t make money, it shouldn’t be flown,” said San Francisco-based Forrester Research analyst Henry Harteveldt.

Some of Alaska Air's Eskimos now wear leis. (Credit: as737700 / Flickr

Despite the loss of American, Bay area residents won’t have much difficulty finding flights from here to Hawaii. Alaska Airlines has added a slew of new Boeing 737 non-stops from Oakland, San Jose and Sacramento to several Hawaiian cities over the last year.

And there are still plenty of seats to Honolulu from SFO. “While disappointed by American’s decision, the airport recognizes that our partner airlines need to make tough economic decisions on where to deploy their aircraft. After September 7 the non-stop SFO-Honolulu market will be served by United, Hawaiian, and Delta; collectively offering over 9,000 seats a week,” said airport spokesman Charles Schuler. (Fares for October SFO-HNL flights are currently in the $400-$500 range, but dip closer to $350 during periodic sales.)

American’s partnership with Hawaiian on its nonstops between SFO and HNL helps ease the pain a little for AAdvantage members. Currently, they can still redeem AAdvantage miles for Hawaiian flights between SFO and HNL. However, they can only earn AAdvantage miles on Hawaiian’s inter-island flights.

Does the loss of American flights provide an opening for Virgin America to enter the market? “It doesn’t really impact our immediate plans,” said Virgin’s Abby Lunardini. “That said, Hawaii remains on our prospective destination list [but] our ability to fly there in the short-term is dependent on our aircraft, as we need the extended range capability of our new on-order A320s to fly those routes.”

Will you miss having American fly between SFO and Honolulu? Please leave your comments below.

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  • Chris McMahon

    Airlines have been consolidating to their hubs for the better part of 20 years. SFO has never really been a hub for AA.
    I am surprised that their SFO-HNL flights lasted this long. It must be a difficult route to be profitable…think of Western Airlines, Aloha Airlines, etc.
    The fact of the matter is that United really has control of SFO domestic and has so many more flights that it makes little sense for AA to play small potatoes here.
    Chris, San Francisco

  • K

    I have flown 1.3million miles on AA myself. I dropped them a few months ago for another airline after this elimination. The massive amount of cuts are making connection options inconvenient.

    Them retreating to the “cornerstones” = screw everyone else. Whatever AA. It’s certainly not leading you to a profitable airline.

  • chris

    From AA source: So, as of Sept. 7, we will fly from HNL 3x daily from LAX; 2x daily from DFW; and 1 from ORD (but not every day – it will be 4 times per week). This gives us either 5 or 6 round trips per day to and from HNL from the U.S. mainland.

  • chris

    I will check with our source at AA who provided the info and make appropriate changes if needed. Thank you! –chris

  • Colin

    I dropped AA after they dropped BOS, and I know two other Executive Platinum flyers who did as well. Just because one route out of SFO isn’t profitable doesn’t mean their top tier fliers who live here aren’t. With the amount of service provided by the new United I am actually wishing I made the switch earlier. UA has a really luxurious number of non stop flights from SFO.

  • mike

    great article! being a loyal AA fan in SF is getting harder but still more rewarding than UA. two corrections: i think you have the HNL departures mixed up, there are 3 a day from LAX, 2 from DFW, 1 from ORD. also, beginning later in the fall, JFK is reduced to 4 daily (even on peak days).