by Brendan M. Lynch | November 01, 2005

American Airlines plane

American cut some
service in September.

Some of the nation’s biggest airlines are cutting back capacity and slashing routes in response to sky-high jet fuel prices, while planners debate the impact such cuts will have on meetings.
    In late September, Fort Worth, Texas-based American Airlines canceled 15 roundtrips from its two largest hubs, Chicago O’Hare and Dallas/Ft. Worth. Cities losing service include Atlanta, Denver, Houston, Minneapolis and Toronto. There was talk of the flights resuming at the end of October if the cost of jet fuel declined.
    “It was the 39 percent rise in jet fuel costs in the last month alone that pushed us,” said Dan Garton, executive vice president with American. “It is no longer economically viable for us to maintain the current level of convenient service in those markets, given our current fuel cost.”
    Meetings industry reaction to the cuts has been mixed. “I don’t think that would affect meetings coming into Chicago, because it’s such a premiere destination and there are so many alternatives to American,” said Gayle Bonforte, CMP, manager of meetings and conference services with Chicago-based McDermott Will & Emery, a law firm.
    Others, however, expressed worry. “It’s a huge concern for those of us who plan meetings and events,” said Gregg Talley, CAE and chairman of the Professional Convention Management Association. “The whole status of our airline industry is of increasing concern. It doesn’t matter if you’re a first- or third-tier city, loss of airlift will hurt.”
    Meanwhile, on Oct. 2, Northwest eliminated its daily nonstop JFK-Tokyo service, citing fuel costs; and Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines recently cut, only to quickly restore, service on various routes due to fuel costs.
    According to research conducted by Chicago-based OAG, domestic flights were down 2 percent for the year. That means about 19,000 fewer flights were offered between October 2004 and October 2005 than in the previous 12 months. And OAG’s statistics show even low-cost flights within the United States are down 6 percent.