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L.A. Airport's Leading Foreign Carriers List Has a Few Surprises


Perhaps it's not surprising that the busiest foreign airline operating at Los Angeles International Airport--in terms of the number of passengers it feeds through the facility--is Mexicana Airlines, the major carrier of California's southern neighbor.

But the runners-up in that category might surprise, because they don't include Japan Air Lines, British Airways or any of the other carriers that rank among the world's largest.

The other foreign airlines handling the most passengers at LAX are Qantas Airways of Australia, Korean Air Lines and Air New Zealand, according to recently published figures from the airport.

For these three, Los Angeles is a critical connection in their worldwide route structures. Air New Zealand, for instance, uses Los Angeles as its gateway between its Asia-Pacific locations and places east of California--mainly London and Frankfurt. Los Angeles is the only U.S. destination for Qantas, which has determined that it gets the most U.S.-Australia traffic through there.

And all three airlines are major carriers of vacation travelers--their arriving planes at LAX are mainly 747s and other jumbo jets that carry lots of passengers on each trip.

Mexicana, however, flies smaller jets to LAX but flies there much more frequently. The airline has 89 flights a week leaving LAX, compared with 30 or fewer for Qantas, Korean Air or Air New Zealand.

"L.A., for our point of view, is the most logical airport to fly into and out of when you're flying from America to Australia and vice versa," said Wally Mariani, Qantas' senior vice president for the Americas.


For Air New Zealand, merely being a popular LAX tenant falls short of its goal. The carrier wants to increase the number of business travelers it ferries to and from Los Angeles, because they tend to pay higher fares than passengers on vacation.

"We've been long known as a leisure carrier, but there's a lot more work for us to do in the corporate market," said James Boyd, Air New Zealand's Los Angeles spokesman.

The Auckland-based airline plans today to unveil a new direct-mail and Internet advertising campaign aimed at the business-travel market. Air New Zealand is adding seats to its business-class cabins, and it's trying to persuade more business travelers to fly its planes from Los Angeles to Sydney, Australia, a route naturally dominated by Qantas.

Not to be outdone, Qantas has announced plans to add another nonstop flight from LAX to Auckland--giving it six such flights a week--starting June 17.


Mariani said the action is not aimed at merely taking a swipe at Air New Zealand, but that the extra flight is needed because of passenger demand. He added, however: "I don't know of too many routes these days that aren't exceptionally competitive."

Qantas also has a "code-sharing" arrangement with American Airlines, through which the carriers feed customers to each other. But Air New Zealand this year secured a similar pact with American archenemy United Airlines, enabling Air New Zealand and United to broaden the number of transpacific flights they can market.

Mexicana is the busiest because of its many flights per day, the large Latino population in Southern California and because "of the wide variety of flights we offer" not only to Mexico, but also to South American cities, said Marilys Villanueva, Mexicana's sales and service manager in Los Angeles.

Korean Air is a big LAX customer not only because of the large number of business and leisure travelers it ferries between Seoul and California, but also because it uses Los Angeles as a gateway for service it has between the Asia-Pacific region and Dallas; and between New York and Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Korean Air, a unit of the giant Hanjin transportation group of South Korea, also operates a major cargo terminal at LAX.)

The airport's data also show that the U.S. airlines' turf battle at LAX remains heated.

United tops the list with 23% of the passengers boarding at LAX last year, but no other U.S. airline has more than 12% of the market. That makes Los Angeles unusual, because over the years each of the airlines has staked out at least one major airport to serve as its primary hub, and then come to dominate the service there.

Some examples include Atlanta, where Delta Air Lines has 75% of the market; Dallas, where American Airlines has 64%; and Minneapolis, where Northwest Airlines has nearly 80% of the business.

Los Angeles, like New York and Chicago, is just too popular a destination and too geographically crucial a gateway (both for U.S. and foreign airlines) for any one carrier to amass a dominant share.

James F. Peltz can be reached at


Flying High at LAX

The busiest foreign airlines at Los Angeles International Airport come from countries near and far. Here's a list of the top players in 1996:


Number of Airline passengers* Mexicana Airlines 458,794 Qantas Airways 319,047 Korean Air Lines 306,703 Air New Zealand 305,398 Air Canada 283,049 British Airways 254,294 Japan Air Lines 254,007 Singapore Airlines 223,642


* Number of passengers boarding at LAX

Source: Los Angeles Department of Airports

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