Airlines across the United States are responding to an increase in traveler demand by adding routes to bolster their flight schedules, in an attempt to stem the revenue loss and slowdowns caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The recent uptick in passenger demand for flights is a welcome sight for an industry that experienced the full weight of domestic and international travel restrictions. According to data from the trade group Airlines for America, passenger volumes on carriers are a fraction of what they were, with air travel down 87 percent as of the end of May.
Last week, American Airlines announced plans to restore more of its flights as summer travel season approaches. The carrier is “planning to fly 55% of its domestic schedule and nearly 20% of its international schedule in July 2020 compared to the same period last year,” according to a news release.
By the end of May, American’s daily traveler average was up to about 100,000 passengers, a promising increase from the 32,000 average the airline maintained in April.
“We’re seeing a slow but steady rise in domestic demand. After a careful review of data, we’ve built a July schedule to match,” Vasu Raja, American’s senior vice president of network strategy, said in a statement. “Our July schedule includes the smallest year-over-year capacity reduction since March. We’ll continue to look for prudent opportunities to restore service so our customers can travel whenever and wherever they are ready.”
United Airlines also plans to reinstate flights to 150 of its U.S. and Canadian destinations during the month of July, according to NPR. The move will increase the airline’s domestic passenger capacity by about a third — still a dismal number, given the airline expects its June capacity to be 23 percent of the volume from the same month last year.
Southwest Airlines has boosted its flight numbers through the upcoming winter, bringing new routes and “adding back in more nonstop point-to-point routes as demand dictates. We’ve also continued serving all of our domestic mainland destinations, providing essential air travel needs to communities across the nation,” according to a spokesman in an email to The Washington Post.
Smaller airlines are jumping on the trend of expansion as Frontier Airlines announced plans to add 18 new nonstop routes to its summer schedule, and Spirit said it will ramp up flights out of South Florida, tripling its flight service and resuming travel to international locations such as Guayaquil in Ecuador and St. Thomas and St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, according to the Miami Herald.
“When this all happened we couldn’t take capacity out fast enough,” John Kirby, Spirit’s vice president of network planning, told the Herald. “The good news is albeit on a very low base, we are seeing demand start to come back.”
However, one major airline is bucking the trend to mitigate the fallout from ongoing coronavirus concerns from travelers. Delta announced it “will suspend service at 11 stations with very low customer demand” beginning July 8. Though the stops make up 5 percent of the airports Delta services, the airline called the move “reasonable and practicable.”
“As the world responds to the covid-19 pandemic, Delta continues to face an unprecedented impact to our business, and suspending operations at these airports will reduce costs where customer demand is low,” Sandy Gordon, senior vice president of domestic airport operations, said in a statement.
Overall, industry experts expect the climb back to record traveler numbers will be a slow process that could take years. But with the economy reopening, airlines hope that in the meantime passengers will be less reluctant to travel.