After moving its headquarters to Fort Worth, Texas from New York City in 1979, American Airlines changed to a hub-and-spoke system in 1981, opening its first hub at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. American opened a second hub in the new Terminal 3 at Chicago O'Hare in 1982, and began transatlantic service between Dallas and London in May 1982. Led by its new chairman and CEO, Robert Crandall, American expanded its service from these hubs through the 1980s, adding service to other European destinations as well as Japan.
In the late 1980s, American Airlines opened three hubs for north-south traffic. San Jose International Airport was added after American purchased AirCal. American built a terminal and runway at Raleigh-Durham International Airport for the growing Research Triangle Park nearby, and to compete with USAir's hub in Charlotte/Douglas International Airport. Nashville International Airport was also added as a hub. American also planned a north-south hub at Stapleton International Airport in Denver during the mid-1980s, but postponed those plans due to the planned development of Denver International Airport.
In 1990, American Airlines bought the assets of TWA's operations at London Heathrow for $445 million. Until open skies came into effect in April 2008, American Airlines and United Airlines were the only U.S. carriers permitted to serve Heathrow.
Lower fuel prices and a favorable[vague] business climate led to higher profits in the 1990s.The industry's expansion was not lost on pilots who on February 17, 1997 went on strike for higher wages. President Bill Clinton invoked the Railway Labor Act citing economic impact to the United States, quashing the strike. Pilots settled for wages lower than their demands.
The three new hubs were abandoned in the 1990s: some San Jose facilities were sold to Reno Air, and at Raleigh/Durham to Midway Airlines. Midway went out of business in 2001. American Airlines purchased Reno Air in February 1999 and integrated its operations on August 31, 1999, but did not resume hub operations in San Jose. American discontinued most of Reno Air's routes, and sold most of the Reno Air aircraft, as it did with Air California 12 years earlier. The only remaining route from the Air California and Reno Air purchases is from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
During this time concern over airline bankruptcies and falling stock prices brought a warning from American's CEO Robert Crandall. "I've never invested in any airline", Crandall said. "I'm an airline manager. I don't invest in airlines. And I always said to the employees of American, 'This is not an appropriate investment. It's a great place to work and it's a great company that does important work. But airlines are not an investment.'" Crandall noted that since airline deregulation of the 1970s, 150 airlines had gone out of business. "A lot of people came into the airline business. Most of them promptly exited, minus their money", he said.
Miami International Airport became a hub after American Airlines bought Central and South American routes ("El Interamericano") from Eastern Air Lines in 1990 (inherited from Braniff International Airways but originated by Panagra). Through the 1990s, American Airlines expanded its network in Latin America to become the dominant U.S. carrier in the region.
On October 15, 1998, American Airlines became the first airline to offer electronic ticketing in the 44 countries it serves.
In 1999, American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Canadian Airlines, and Qantas founded the global airline alliance Oneworld.