Come some time early next year. This is a very, very bad sign, as CLT – Rio obviously isn’t even close to being a keeper for the combined carrier. US Airways had to put up with likely a significant loss to get into the Brazilian market; American Airlines, which flies to Rio from Miami, Dallas, and New York City, doesn’t have to and the combined carrier won’t.
The loss of the route has a wider significance. There was a stream of thought here in Charlotte that the US Airways/American Airline merger would be good for international flying from CLT in general and to Central and South America in particular. American Airlines is the dominate carrier to that region, the argument went, so it would be logical for the combined airline to add more flight to the region from Charlotte. Buenos Aires was mentioned as a possibility — I never thought it made sense, but I’m not a popular guy with the usual suspects.
The problem: US Airways does a good job of flying American tourists to beach markets in the Caribbean, Central America, and Mexico via Charlotte. They’d also clearly hit the limits of what they could do in the region as the airline had only successfully added one destination to those areas since March 2005 (Cabo, the resort on the west coast of Mexico, and Saturday only at that). Before it started flying to Rio, US Airways had little appetite for markets that relied more upon business travelers and those visiting friends and family. Completely different demographic, completely different challenge, in part as the populations going there are much concentrated in a few big cities — two of which are south of Charlotte — than the hoards of Americans that go to Cancun or Montego Bay.
Some portion — I’d argue most — of that will survive after the merger. But kiss any notions of future growth to Central and South America good bye. At this point, we’ll be lucky to hold on the flight to Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest market, which US Airways launched last year.
Bonus thought: Be scared about the flight levels to Europe in 2015. This summer, US airways is scheduled to have 11 flights a day to 10 destination plus Lufthansa}s flight to Munich. I could easily imagine that number falling by a third to a half in 2015…
Does anyone read the news and have a brain thought: The Rio route cut is a flashing red light for the airport and its plan to build a new international terminal. It definitely would be wise to see what US Airways + American Airlines do over the next year to two years before committing to the project.