Thanksgiving Promps Rise In US Domestic Schedule Despite CDC Warning

US airlines are adding more capacity this week in anticipation of a rise in passengers with the Thanksgiving holidays. Carriers have collectively added nearly 460,000 extra seats for this week, a near 4% bump from the previous week. The rise comes despite the CDC’s strong warning against traveling home for the holidays as COVID-19 outbreaks continue to grow  across the country.

Southwest Airlines
US airlines are planning capacity increases for the coming week. Photo: Getty Images

Airlines add flights

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, US airlines are adding capacity to their networks, and a lot of it. Data from OAG shows that capacity for the United States ticked up by 3.7% this week, rising to 13,046,105 seats. The additional 460,933 shows that airlines may have seen a flurry of last-minute ticket bookings (or are expecting some) in the coming days.

Southwest alone can account for nearly the entire sudden rise in capacity, adding a massive 400,000 seats for this week. This represents a 15% expansion in Southwest’s schedule as the airline continues to add more cities to its network.

This expansion makes Southwest the second-largest airline by scheduled capacity globally this week (behind Delta). Other airlines have made more modest increases, with Delta adding 1.5% more seats this week. However, some airlines have taken a notably different tack. 

Southwest Getty
Southwest is fuelling the increase in Thanksgiving capacity. Photo: Getty Images

American Airlines slashed capacity by nearly 10% for Thanksgiving week, citing lower ticket sales. United also reduced its schedule by 0.4%, sharing the outlook that Thanksgiving won’t give airlines a massive bump.

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Why the variance?

The difference between Southwest and American’s outlook is quite stark, with one betting big and the other paring back its schedule. OAG notes that Southwest might find itself regretting the capacity increase after the CDC’s recent warning and calls against traveling for the holidays. However, just this weekend, the US crossed over 1 million passengers at TSA checkpoints for only the second time since March.

Passengers getty
The CDC strictly warned against traveling for the holidays this weekend, making Southwest’s call a risky one. Photo: Getty Images

It’s impossible to know which airlines made the right decisions today, but we will surely know in the next few days. Airlines have reported weaker bookings in this period, which leaves last-minute bookings as the only way to fill the surge in seats.

Infections skyrocket

While airlines might be planning more flights this week, the US is shattering world records every day with its infection numbers. Cases are rising exponentially and fast approaching 200,000 daily cases. The current wave of infections is proving to be far more dangerous than anything else the country has seen.

With nearly every state reporting massive outbreaks, the CDC bluntly urged travelers not to get on a plane to visit family for fear of further increasing cases. Thanksgiving is traditionally the busiest time for air travel, with Thanksgiving 2019 being the busiest travel day in the entire year.

Los Angeles International Airport will begin issuing molecular or PCR tests in two terminals this week and has plans to quickly expand the program in order to help detect coronavirus and slow its spread.
The US is setting new records for COVID-19 infections every day. Photo: Getty Images

For those who do find themselves traveling on Thanksgiving, make sure to check restrictions and take extra precautions for a smooth travel experience. The next few days will give us a clearer picture of how many people opted to fly this week and which airline made the right call on capacity.