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The award for ‘sexiest new route’ of the year goes to …

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“And the sexiest new nonstop route of the year is … ”

No, that wasn’t an obscure part of the Oscars you missed last month.

Instead, that phrase was uttered ahead of an honor given out at the 2024 Cranky Network Awards — something you might liken to the Oscars of airline route planning.

The awards have been handed out annually since 2021 by Brett Snyder, author of the Cranky Flier aviation blog and analysis site after which the awards are named.

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This year’s event in Oakland drew not only airline executives and industry insiders but also media from outlets like The Wall Street Journal and CNBC.

That there’s so much interest in specific airline routes may surprise some, but stories about new flights are routinely some of our most popular stories here at TPG. That was also true during my two decades as the Today in the Sky columnist at USA Today; word of a new airline destination would often vie with trending national news to make the site’s list of most-read stories on any given day.

Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst and president of Atmosphere Research, was among those attending the event in person. He’s not surprised that the event has found legs.

“An airline’s route network is fundamentally the product we buy when choosing an airline and booking a flight,” he said. “The analysis and decision-making involved in planning and choosing the routes an airline flies — and doesn’t fly — heavily determines whether the airline will make money.”

“I’m not surprised that there is an award show for airline routes. I’m just surprised none of the airline route conferences thought to do something like this first,” Harteveldt said, referencing the numerous conferences that take place worldwide on the subject — yes, there are dozens of such airline route conferences each year.

Snyder, who collaborates with Visual Approach founder Courtney Miller to put on the awards, said his initial goal was simply to shine a spotlight on what he thought was an underappreciated part of the industry.

Cranky Flier author Brett Snyder (right) and Courtney Miller of Visual Approach Analytics raise a glass to the 2024 Cranky Network Awards in Oakland.
Cranky Flier author Brett Snyder (right) and Courtney Miller of Visual Approach Analytics raise a glass to the 2024 Cranky Network Awards in Oakland. CRANKY FLIER/PHOTOJDL

“When we started the Cranky Network Awards during the pandemic, we just saw a group that was overworked, doing remarkable things to help keep their companies afloat,” Snyder said, reflecting on the scramble by airlines to adjust their schedules during the depths of the COVID-19 crisis. “We thought they deserved recognition for that, and not necessarily external recognition but more internally.”

As for staging an award ceremony, Snyder said in his typical deadpan style that “at the very least, (attendees would) be able to escape for a night away, have a good time and get a trophy to take back and be proud of. That is still our goal with the awards, regardless of what the outside world thinks about it.”

This all brings us back to the sexiest airline route award. There were actually two winners in that category, one going to the sexiest new “short-haul” route (think short) and another for the sexiest “long-haul” route (think a longer overseas route).

JetBlue earned the prize for the short-haul award (Los Angeles to Nassau, Bahamas), and Canadian carrier Air Transat won the long-haul award (Montreal to Marrakech).

Route planning executives from Air Transat (left) and JetBlue (right) come on stage to accept the Cranky Network Awards for 'sexiest new airline routes.'
Route planning executives from Air Transat (left) and JetBlue (right) come on stage to accept the Cranky Network Awards for ‘sexiest new airline routes.’ CRANKY FLIER/PHOTOJDL

Awards were given for a whole slew of categories — everything from the “Most Clever Flight Number” on a new route to a “Calculated Risk Award” for trying something new. A full list of the winners is below.

Snyder declined to single out an award that he felt was particularly impactful.

“There isn’t one that sticks out because they are all so different,” he said, though he acknowledged some may have broader appeal than others.

“Ones like the Sexiest New Route awards are about something announced that we like. The winners may work out or they may not, but it’s fun to celebrate those kinds of decisions,” he continued. “And then ones like the Route Victory and Network Victory are about actual performance [of a new route], so it’s a really different type of award.”

“If you’re talking about ‘most fun,’ it’s probably the Most Clever Flight Number,” he said. “But in general, we say the Most Improved Network is the biggest award, because it’s looking at the full body of work that the airlines have done in the last year, not what they inherited.”

In all, the Cranky Network Awards underscore just how interesting new airline routes can be — both to industry insiders and everyday flyers.

Brian Znotins, American's network planning chief, accepts an award at the 2024 Cranky Network Awards in Oakland.
Brian Znotins, American’s network planning chief, accepts an award at the 2024 Cranky Network Awards in Oakland. CRANKY FLIER/PHOTOJDL

Asked to put it in perspective, Snyder noted that the awards help punctuate the in-depth route analysis that he and Miller have become known for at Cranky Flier.

“I think what it comes down to is that Courtney and I spend a lot of time analyzing what airlines do and commenting on it,” he said. “Sometimes it’s positive, and sometimes it’s not. To be able to get everyone in a room and do something that is completely positive (with plenty of good-natured ribbing to spread around) always seemed like a great idea. We wanted airlines to want to attend and be able to enjoy it. If they enjoy it, then we do, too.”

Scroll down for a full list of the winners at the 2023 Cranky Network Awards.

United's route-planning team poses with Brett Snyder to show off the airline's 2024 Cranky Network Award winners.
United’s route-planning team poses with Brett Snyder to show off the airline’s 2024 Cranky Network Award winners. CRANKY FLIER/PHOTOJDL

2024 Cranky Network Awards

Sexiest New Route — short-haul

Winner: Los Angeles to Nassau on JetBlue

Other nominees:

  • Anchorage to San Diego on Alaska Airlines
  • Atlanta to Curacao on Delta Air Lines
  • New Haven, Connecticut, to San Juan, Puerto Rico on Avelo Airlines
  • Ottawa, Canada, to Las Vegas on Flair Airlines

Sexiest New Route — long-haul

Winner: Montreal to Marrakech on Air Transat

Other nominees:

  • Atlanta to Nice, France, on Delta
  • Munich to Seattle on Lufthansa
  • Newark to Faro, Portugal, on United
  • Vancouver, Canada, to Dubai on Air Canada

Calculated Risk Award

Winner: American for its focus on its hubs in the southern U.S.

Other nominees:

  • Allegiant for its return to Orlando International Airport (MCO) in addition to its existing base at Orlando Sanford International Airport (SFB)
  • Delta for its Austin expansion
  • Southwest for moving its Florida international gateway from Fort Lauderdale to Orlando
  • United for investing heavily in long-haul growth

Most Clever Flight Number

Winner: Flair 1512 Calgary to Las Vegas. The flight number marks the exact difference in feet between the departure gate in Calgary and the arrival gate in Las Vegas.

Other nominees:

  • Alaska 777: San Diego to Dulles International Airport (IAD)
  • American 3846: College Station, Texas, to Miami
  • JetBlue 72: Edinburgh to John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK)
  • Sun Country 1916: Missoula, Montana, to Minneapolis

Best Airport Partner

Winner: Paul Forde, Winnipeg Airports Authority — Winnipeg James Armstrong Richardson International Airport (YWG). This award goes to airport “air service development” executives airlines say are especially helpful to work with in exploring opportunities for new routes.

Other nominees:

  • Abe Weber, Appleton International Airport — Appleton International Airport (ATW in Wisconsin
  • Janet Fischer, Steamboat Ski & Resort Corporation — Yampa Valley Regional Airport (HDN) near Steamboat Springs, Colorado
  • Joe Rotterdam, Pittsburgh International Airport — Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT)
  • Julie Curtis, South Bend International Airport — South Bend International Airport (SBN) in Indiana

Best Aircraft-Enabled Opportunity

Winner: Anchorage to JFK on Alaska (with the Boeing 737 MAX 8). This award goes to an airline that used the capabilities of a specific aircraft to add a route that would have been difficult to fly profitably with another type of plane.

Other nominees:

Most Promising New Partnership

Winner: Alaska and Hawaiian (merger)

Other nominees:

  • American and Dallas Fort Worth (new terminal development)
  • JetBlue and both Allegiant and Frontier (asset divestitures)
  • Porter and Air Transat (new joint venture)
  • United, Lufthansa and Deutsche Bahn (multimodal)

Best New Destination

Winner: Tulum on Air Canada, American, Delta, JetBlue, Spirit (postponed) and United

Other nominees:

Most Improved Network

Winner: United for its Pacific expansion

Other nominees:

Network Victory Award

Winner: Delta for its success in the Boston hub

Route Victory Award

Winner: American for its success on Miami and Beef Island/Tortola in the U.S. Virgin Islands

All-Season All-Star

Winner: United for finding destinations in Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand to fly its wide-bodies in North American winter when demand in Europe is limited.

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