In last month’s column, I told the story of American Overseas Airlines, an American Airlines subsidiary that served Europe in the years immediately after World War II. While AA was a pioneer in transatlantic flight, our international network actually extended south before it reached across the Atlantic. This month marks the 65th anniversary of American’s first service to Mexico.
In 1940, the Mexican government granted American Airlines the authority to extend its service to Mexico City, via Monterrey. In April 1942, the U.S. Civil Aeronautics Board gave the okay. But before the first Mexico-bound DC-3 could take off, AA personnel had to build an entire aviation infrastructure in Monterrey, including ticket offices, navigational equipment, emergency fields, roads, and utility lines. By September 1942, the AA era in Mexico was under way.
While we were among the first airlines to fly to Mexico, for decades American had no presence at all in the rest of Latin America. That changed in 1978 when we launched service to Guadalajara. We then added flights to Puerto Vallarta and Cancún, and in 1987, we began serving Caracas, Venezuela, our first destination in South America. Still, our Latin American presence remained small until 1989, when we acquired Eastern Airlines’ routes to Central and South America. Suddenly, we were a major player in the region.
Our southern expansion was met with a lot of skepticism, as the 1980s had been a decade of financial turmoil for many Latin American countries. Moreover, beyond the economic risk, launching service to 21 new cities in 15 Latin American countries, as we did in 1990, created unique cultural, political, and logistical challenges. For example, American’s aircraft would now be flying over some of the highest and most remote terrain anywhere. In order to serve La Paz, in the Bolivian Andes, which has an elevation of 13,000 feet, we modified six 757s. Even the tractors at the airport required special high-altitude carburetors.
From a standing start 18 years ago, we quickly grew into the top U.S. airline serving Latin America, with more flights to more destinations than any other carrier. We proved the naysayers wrong, and the linchpin of our growth and success has been our hub at Miami International Airport, the premier gateway connecting the United States and Latin America.
In 1989, American operated 18 flights a day and employed about 200 people in Miami. Today, we have more than 9,000 employees in South Florida, and our Latin America/Mexico route system has grown to include 38 destinations in 17 countries. Of course, Miami isn’t the only U.S. city you can connect through to and from Latin America. Our Latin network also provides nonstop access to Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, Los Angeles, New York/JFK, and San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The service we offer you to Latin America is unmatched in the industry, and it would be impossible were it not for our employees based in those regions, nearly all of whom are nationals of the countries in which they work. They are our ambassadors, developing the ties we need to the local communities, governments, and business leaders. Our success in Latin America is a tribute to them, so I hope you will join me in congratulating them on this auspicious occasion. I know they join me in thanking you for flying with us and wishing you buen viaje, or “good voyage.”
Gerard J. Arpey
Chairman & CEO