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American will trim some flights as part of 'rebanking' its PHL hub

American Airlines will "rebank" its several hundred flights a day at Philadelphia International Airport in January, going from eight banks - waves of flight arrivals and departures - to six.

Since the 2013 merger with US Airways, American has rebanked its hubs in Dallas Fort Worth, Chicago, and Miami.

"Travelers are going to have a much more compelling schedule. We can still offer them all the connections we did before," said Vasu Raja, American's vice president of network and schedule planning.

The earliest flights will leave PHL about 8 a.m., instead of 7:30. The last flights of the day will depart between 8 and 9 p.m., instead of 10 or later.

The  airline will fly larger planes on some of the affected routes, so the loss of seats or capacity will be mitigated. "We are not doing away with a lot of frequencies; there are going to be more seats," Raja said.

Philadelphia is, and will remain, American's fourth-largest hub, the airline said.

During the summer months, American has 425 daily departures at PHL, or 850 round-trips a day. In the winter, the number drops to about 380 departures because some transatlantic flights are seasonal.

This January, Philadelphia International will have about 350 departures a day, or 700 total  American flights including arrivals.

With the changes, the 5 a.m. flights from "spoke" cities such as Providence, R.I., Toronto, and Boston into the Philadelphia hub will leave at 6:30  or 6:45, getting into Philadelphia about an hour later. Passengers will "maintain the same connections" to San Juan or Los Angeles "but won't have to catch a 5 a.m. flight to do it," Raja said.

Several flight reductions have already been announced. Halifax, Nova Scotia, flights will end in January. Brussels and Zurich flights have ended. Frankfurt will become a seasonal flight, instead of year-round.

Daily flights to Boston will drop from 14 to eight, although American will fly larger planes on the route. The number of daily flights to Washington Reagan National and Newark Liberty International will go from eight to three.

American will discontinue flights to Elmira and Binghamton, N.Y. from PHL in February, but plans to fly larger planes to Ithaca, N.Y.

"I know that we're going to lose 30 to 40 flights in the January time frame, but was told the number of seats won't be nearly as dramatic as the number of flights," said Philadelphia airport CEO Chellie Cameron. "Exactly what that means remains to be seen.

"We've got to focus on the good news, though," Cameron said. "We're still a hub -- the No. 4 hub and will remain so. And we're still the European gateway from the East Coast. That's great for the city."

Airline analyst Hunter Keay of Wolfe Research said in a client note that the bulk of American's cuts "post Labor Day" were in Boston, "specifically Boston-Washington Reagan, Boston-Philadelphia, and Boston-LaGuardia." Other American cuts came mainly at New York LaGuardia to "its major hubs" and from American hubs including Charlotte, Dallas Fort Worth, Chicago O'Hare, and Reagan National to "various domestic destinations," he wrote.

American said it was "more tuning the merger" than making drastic changes.

"Philadelphia is one of our most profitable hubs. We love Philadelphia. We have no plans of exiting Philadelphia at all," Raja said. "But Philadelphia is a connecting hub." Only 10 percent to 15 percent of passengers on transatlantic flights originate in this region.

"People see changes in Philadelphia and think,  'What does this mean for Philadelphia?'  But actually the game in Philadelphia, and what we try to do there, is make it a great connecting hub. We love it as a connecting hub, and these changes will make it better."