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Airlines Take New Approach to International Routes

Like other U.S. carriers, United has seen weakness in China. It eliminated the Los Angeles-Hong Kong route it started last year and scaled back frequencies between Dulles and Beijing, just as Delta is pulling back the Atlanta-Shanghai route. Meanwhile, US Airways, AMR's (AMR) American and United are delaying China startups that had been scheduled for 2009.

The industry "is going through growing pains in Asia right now," Knight said. "But if you look at any outlook, over the long term Asia will continue to be a strong and growing market." United has dropped a San Francisco-Nagoya flight, as well as Los Angeles-Frankfurt, and has eliminated one of two daily San Francisco-Frankfurt flights.

Other carriers apparently have concluded that if any city can retain its appeal to summer leisure passengers, it's Paris. "You see some others pulling back internationally, but you don't see them reducing service to Paris," US Airways CEO Doug Parker said in a recent interview, as the carrier announced the resumption of Charlotte-Paris flights that were eliminated in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Charlotte/Douglas is far bigger today, following the 2005 merger between hub carrier US Airways and America West. In 2003, the airport handled 23.6 million passengers. The total for the first nine months of 2008 was 26.2 million.

Parker noted that US Airways trails the five other legacy carriers in international service. While others have 40% or more of their capacity in international routes, US Airways has just over half that.

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