United Airlines Begins Trimming Domestic Routes

With the number of coronavirus cases increasing at home and abroad, United has announced it is cutting its domestic capacity by 10% for April. The move comes alongside United’s decision to cut international capacity by 20% in the coming months and its offer to staff of unpaid leave. United’s decision has already had a ripple effect, with JetBlue announcing capacity cuts soon after.

United Airlines 787
United has decided to cut domestic capacity by 10%, making it the first US carrier to do so. Photo: United Airlines

US carriers hit with the full force of the virus

2020 has been a turbulent year for aviation, with airlines around the globe cutting their capacity and looking for ways to save money. Asian carriers like Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines, and of course Chinese carriers, have been the worst hit.

Until now, US carriers have managed to not cut domestic routes, focusing on cutting international routes instead. This all has changed with a sharp rise in coronavirus cases in the US.

JetBlue at Washington Reagan
JetBlue followed United in announcing capacity cuts in the coming months. Photo: Getty Images

The last week has seen the virus spread to 21 states, including flight hubs like New York and California, infecting dozens and killing 14. This sudden spike in cases has led to a steep drop in travel, both domestically and internationally, in the US.

These factors are likely what drove United to cut its capacity, in order to minimize revenue loss in the coming months. JetBlue announced a few hours later that it too would cut capacity by roughly 5% in light of current events.

Things are likely to get worse before they get better

While only United and JetBlue have announced domestic cuts, it would be unsurprising if others don’t follow suit soon. With the number of cases only rising throughout the US, the situation seems to only be deteriorating in the coming few weeks.

Delta MD-88
The virus might force Delta might begin retiring its MD-88s earlier than planned. Photo: Getty Images

The virus has also pushed airlines to adopt cost-cutting methods. United has instituted a hiring freeze and deferred merit-based salary increase until July. It has grounded some of its widebody 777s and 787s that are normally deployed on international sectors.

JetBlue is also reducing hiring for support and frontline jobs while canceling upcoming events and meetings. Both carriers have also offered their staff unpaid leave. If you work for the airline it might be a great time to take a vacation! Though there might not be many places to go.

Delta has announced it might begin retiring its fleet of MD-88s earlier than anticipated. Most airlines have also waived cancellation and change fees in light of the recent situation.

These are only some of the measures being taken by various airlines, the coming weeks will probably see more airlines announcing cuts and plans to save cash. Every single major US carrier, from American to Spirit, has seen its stock suffer heavily for the last week or so, prompting questions about future plans.

How will this affect travelers?

While the exact flights canceled have not been released yet, the cuts will most probably result in reduced frequency on many routes and cancellation of flights that are served by multiple hubs. United is set to release specific cancellations on March 7.

Both United and JetBlue are also waiving cancellation and change fees for upcoming flights, calming anxious travelers. Passengers are generally advised to contact airlines directly if their flights have been canceled to secure alternative arrangements.

United capacity cuts
Both travellers and airlines will feel the pinch of the virus on demand. Photo: United Airlines.

Demand for travel has sharply reduced in 2020, which has caused everyone from airlines to airports to adapt. With the virus spreading through the US, we can expect airlines to reduced flights and report heavy year-on-year losses, at the least.

Tell us if your plans have been disrupted by capacity cuts and the virus in the comments!