In an exclusive interview with PassportNews, VP of Sales and Distribution at American Airlines talks about the new US-Israel routes launched by the world’s largest airline, says he is “excited and looking forward to arriving in Israel”, and discusses how the company deals with the pandemic as well as future plans.
In 2021, American Airlines plans to launch 3 brand new routes between the US and Israel. The direct routes from Tel Aviv to New York, Miami and Dallas, announced by the world’s largest airline, testify to the company’s intent to enhance its operations in Israel.
We’ve met Tom Lattig, VP of EMEA Sales and Distribution at American Airlines – in charge of the company’s operations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa – for a zoom talk about the company’s plans in Israel and around the world, in light of the coronavirus.
Lattig is has held senior positions at AA since 1999, is well acquainted with the Israeli aviation market, and intends to personally oversee the airline’s operations in the country.
AA is very confident in the success of its new routes to Israel, and in the interview, Lattig tells us about the company’s intentions to augment the trans-Atlantic flights between Israel and the US with a quality product, as well as complement it with a huge range of connecting flights to Latin America and across the United States, together with AA’s new partner, Jet Blue.
What are your expectations from the new routes, NYC and Miami to TLV, set to begin this coming spring? Will these two routes get the go-ahead as planned?
“Yes, barring any changes to border restrictions, that is our expectation. We know there is a lot of pent up demand, and we certainly expect to see a lot of demand flowing through.”
The US is the number one destination for Israelis. Your activity in Israel will put fierce competition on other airlines, especially El Al. What will set apart your route to Miami?
“As for Miami in particular, we certainly value the US-Israeli market over the last year. We know it has been a very resilient market, when there were no restrictions. We are fortunate to have a very big hub in Miami, with connections to the Caribbean, Mexico and Latin America, which we think will bring a lot of additional value to our Miami connecting flights. We also know there is a big local market, we expect a lot of Israelis to fly to Orlando, Miami and Southern Florida, so I think with AA they will have a very accessible flight to Miami.”
What can Israeli passengers expect on your routes to NYC and Miami, in addition to the many connecting flights you offer?
“We’ll be flying the route with the 777-200 aircraft, which offers Business Class, Premium Economy and Main Cabin product. We will have kosher catering available for pre-order on all our TLV flights, and we are operating what I think is a very convenient schedule. Flight from TLV will leave late in the evening, arriving in Miami early in the morning, so you can make the most of the day.
The flight to JFK will start operating on a daily basis May 6, with flights from TLV departing at 12:50 AM and landing in NYC at 6:00 AM.
We are going to be flying to Miami three days a week, on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays, with flights departing from TLV at 11:55 PM and landing in Miami at 6:25 AM.”
If the line to Miami succeeds, and it seems very likely, will you be able to increase the frequency?
“We will certainly have ongoing evaluation of what works, so we can add more flights. It is definitely not unreasonable to expect that if the route is doing well, we’ll increase the frequency.”
Let’s talk about the pandemic. How has it affected your activity in the face of various restrictions? Do you think passengers already feel safer to fly?
“Yes, that’s a great question. We certainly had a year to look and see how customers are responding to the different restrictions and policies that are in place. Our company and a lot of the industry has been really focused on making sure it is safe to fly. We know some customers are definitely concerned about the pandemic, we are too. Believe me, our goal as an airline is the same as our government’s, to contain the spread of the pandemic, but we think there is a safe way to do that. We at AA launched a new initiative called Clean Commitment, to give our customers and team members a peace of mind when they travel. Cleanliness and safety are ultimately a priority for us at AA, and we did receive certification by the Global Bio-risk Advisory Council, this is a new certification for our entire fleet, as well as our Admirals Club lounges. I do believe as vaccinations continue to progress and populations are vaccinated, we will see that lead to reduced restrictions around the world, and when these restrictions go away, demand follows immediately.”
Do you think that in 2021 we will start to see similar numbers to what we had in 2019?
“I think it’s too soon to say the numbers will approach what we saw in 2019, but I do think it depends on the market, on the restrictions in place. We have seen demand in certain markets, particular some leisure markets, we have seen lots of business in short-haul international markets that have been open, like the Caribbean and Mexico. In the first half of 2021, we expect to be flying roughly 45% of what we flew in 2019, and in the course of this year we certainly expect to exceed what we saw in 2020. But when will we get back to 2019 levels? It’s too early to say but we’re optimistic that it won’t be too long.”
What are your most popular and busy routes these days?
“I can certainly tell you Mexico is a very popular destination for US-based travelers. That’s because there were no restrictions in place, and as I mentioned before, there is lots of pent up demand from the traveling public. On our long-haul international network it’s been primarily corporate business and visiting friends and relatives. Our domestic business within the US has fared pretty well, and as I mentioned before, we are going to be flying about 45% of 2019 levels in the first quarter.”
In light of the situation, is American Airlines planning any other new routes?
“Our company, and our business and industry are in a rebuilding phase, and for AA, when we look at our international network, we have the opportunity to reset and take a different look at how we build our network. If in some markets like Israel we will go on our own and create brand new flights, in other markets it will mean relying more on partners, like our joint business with British Airways and Iberia, using their big hubs in London and Madrid to get people from the US over to other markets. In NYC, it’s really a testament to this new relationship we have announced and launched with JetBlue, which is what enabled us to announce our new flight from JFK to TLV. We have also announced JFK-Athens as a new market this year, so we’re going to see more flights from JFK as time goes on, at the beginning of June.”
This year you are making a dramatic move and opening three routes to Israel, including the route to Dallas on the next winter schedule.
“We are really excited about coming back to Israel. If you asked me around this time last year if we’d be flying 3 brand new routes to Israel in 2021, I would have been hard pressed to come up with that. We have plans to start the Dallas flight later this year, in October. Dallas is our biggest hub, we certainly have many connections for our customers in Dallas. There is a lot of corporate business from TLV we expect to develop over the course of the year, and we are really excited about corporate business coming back.”
Some international airlines, such as Singapore Airlines and Etihad Airways, operate flights with vaccinated air crews, to encourage and strengthen passenger safety. Do you consider doing that?
“With respect to vaccinations for AA employees, we are certainly encouraging them to get vaccinated at the earliest opportunity. We have lots of team members who have been vaccinated already. As a company, we do not plan to mandate vaccinations. However, if there are requirements that flight crews be vaccinated for them to travel to locations as needed, I would expect of them to be vaccinated.”
Tom Lattig, VP of EMEA Sales and Distribution at American Airlines.
In 2017, Lattig moved to London to serve as Managing Director for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. In this capacity, Lattig is responsible for AA’s sales activities in Europe, including business collaborations with British Airways, Iberia and Finnair. He also manages customer relationship strategy, including small and medium-sized businesses, travel agencies and distribution.
Lattig joined American Airlines in 1999, and since then he has led teams in strategic alliances, and global corporate sales.
He is a graduate of Washington University in St Louis, with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering, holds an MBA from the University of Texas in Austin and is fluent in Spanish.
In his previous post at the company headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas, he was director of corporate sales programs.