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For American Airlines, the Gap in Asia May Be Less Than It Seems

Casey noted that Alaska code shares with American in Seattle, just as it does with Delta, and American partner Hainan flies between Beijing and Seattle.

It is clear that prevailing wisdom within the airline industry is that American is severely disadvantaged in Asia. Responding to the perception last week at the JP Morgan investor conference, US Airways CEO Doug Parker acknowledged that Delta and United have more routes to Asia, but referred to the benefits from the merger and the strong partnerships. "The real issue is to make sure you can get customers to where they want to go," Parker said. "Oneworld has that."

Experts say partnerships with JAL and Cathay Pacific are fine, but go only so far. "American has a decent set of partners," said Imperial Capital analyst Bob McAdoo. "But they only have partners to a handful of cities in China." Air China, for instance, serves 96 cities in mainland China, while JAL serves 10 and Cathay Pacific serves 20. "I'm not sure it's critical," McAdoo added. "It would be nice to say that you go all over the world. But maybe you just don't."

Henry Harteveldt, travel industry analyst for Hudson Crossing in San Francisco, said the two partnerships mean that "American at least has acceptable stop-gap measures in place."

Longer term, Harteveldt foresees "lobbying various governments, particularly China, for expanded route rights, although this won't be easy, and results won't occur quickly." Another distant possibility could involve a merger or partnership with Hawaiian (HA - Get Report). "The only airline with Asia presence that might be an option for a merger is Hawaiian, which flies from Hawaii to several points in Asia and the South Pacific," Harteveldt said. Rederer, meanwhile, said American might consider buying Alaska, although "it would be a high-cost and high-risk strategy because Delta would also bid."
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