April 25, 2016.   Route Map Envy.

It’s depressing that America has no such thing as a truly “global” airline. Once upon a time there was Pan Am, but nowadays our biggest carriers seem content to pull back and let their code-share partners do much of the heavy lifting. Not that “global” has any specific definition, but it’s the likes of British Airways, Air France, Lufthansa, and, of course, Emirates, that although they don’t carry as many people overall, have the most expansive route networks. Or how about Turkish Airlines, which flies to more countries than anybody in the world. United Airlines is, maybe, the closest thing we’ve got. United’s Pacific network, most of it inherited from Pan Am and Continental, is bigger than that of some Asian carriers. The airline is huge across Europe, and flies to a solid number of South American cities as well. United has a single destination in Africa, but it’s also the only U.S. airline to maintain a presence in India, operating nonstops to both Delhi and Mumbai from its Newark hub. But these routes aside, there’s an enormous swath of real estate extending from, essentially, Eastern Europe all the way across to China, that is pretty much untouched by the American “big three” of United, American, or Delta. For example, aside from Tel Aviv, there is not a single city in the Middle East served by any of these airlines. Pan Am has been gone for 25 years, but TWA was operating to Riyadh and Cairo until 2001. As recently as 2009, Delta was flying to Cairo, Amman, Dubai, Istanbul and Kuwait (yes, IST is more Europe than the Middle East, but still). All of these routes are gone. Sure, geopolitics has something to do with it, as does simple geography and the relative isolation of our continent, with huge oceans on either side. But that can’t be the whole story. After all, the big European airlines fly to as many cities in South America as United or Delta do. With our carriers as profitable as they are, I’m surprised there hasn’t been more expansion. United is opening up markets in Xian, Auckland, and Athens, but its competitors have mostly been quiet. I’m sure that it’s naively romantic to say so, but what I wish our industry had was a modern day Juan Trippe — a visionary airline leader eager to put our country back on the map, so to speak. The red areas in the graphic below show the regions not served by an American carrier (the borders are an approximation, so don’t get too picky). The circular cutouts are for Tel Aviv and United’s two Indian cities.


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