Rising fuel prices play havoc with the profitability of those routes, though. Even as Northwest adds its new flight to Bangalore, it recently cut its New York-Tokyo nonstop, blaming fuel prices. American is dropping its flight between Chicago and Nagoya, Japan for the same reason, spokesman Tim Wagner said.
Airlines are studying the profitability of their routes like never before, said Stuart Klaskin, a partner at KKC Aviation Consulting in Miami.
Airlines are saying, '''If it turns out we can't make money from London to Minneapolis, or Tokyo to New York, we're out of there,''' Klaskin said.
Eagan-based Northwest and Atlanta-based Delta face overseas competition from Continental Airlines Inc., which claims to fly to more international destinations than any other U.S. carrier.
''Quietly, Continental has become this incredibly organized, well-run globe-spanning carrier that's got a real brand,'' Klaskin said.
And by keeping amenities like hot meals for domestic coach passengers, Continental has retained a reputation for service that has suffered at other airlines.
Klaskin said that appeals ''to the guy who's sitting back in 64F who used to be able to go nonstop from Minny to London and now is on his way to Amsterdam for his connection, who got cold cuts and a flat Coke for dinner.''
And just because discount carriers aren't flying from the U.S. to India yet, they might someday. The Caribbean and Mexico are seen as likely destinations for discounters in coming years. Jetblue Airways is already flying to Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic from New York.
Low-cost carriers already exist in Asia and Europe. EasyJet, a British airline, and RyanAir, an Irish budget carrier, have expanded throughout Europe and are drawing competition, and budget airlines such as Malaysia's AirAsia are growing fast in the Pacific Rim.
They're not crossing oceans yet, said Doug Abbey, a partner at the Washington-based aviation consulting firm The Velocity Group.
But you can bet there's a demand for them, he said: ''Somebody will try to fill that vacuum.''