Airlines bosses across the United States are starting to smile again as domestic travel begins to rebound strongly. The big carriers like United Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and American Airlines are all enjoying strong bookings and forward demand. But underscoring the sunny forecast is an ongoing warning against traveling and the possibility of further waves of COVID-19.
America’s big airlines rebound strongly
Yesterday, Simple Flying’s Jay Singh reported domestic travel bookings at American Airlines earlier this week were running at 90% of 2019 levels. Seat utilization across American’s domestic flights last week was also good, averaging 80%.
Airline database RadarBox.com paints an even more positive picture. In the week between March 26 and April 1, American Airlines is scheduling an average of 4,034 domestic flights a day. In the same week in 2019, the airline scheduled an average of 3.039 domestic flights a day.
Over at Delta Air Lines, the outlook is equally good. Between March 26 and April 1, Delta is running an average of 3,694 domestic flights a day. In the same week last year, the airline operated just an average of 1,345 flights a day. In the same week in 2019, well before COVID-19 struck, Delta ran an average of 3,267 domestic flights a day.
United Airlines is also running above its 2019 domestic flight levels this week, if by a smaller margin. Between March 26 and April 1, United is operating an average of 2,438 domestic flights a day. Across the same week in 2019, the airline flew an average of 2,341 domestic flights a day. Just one year ago, United was running an average of 843 domestic flights a day.
Similarly, Alaska Airlines is also storming back, operating an average of 975 domestic flights a day this week. Over the same week in 2019, the Seattle-based airline flew an average of 736 domestic flights a day. This time last year, Alaska was flying just 551 domestic flights a day.
Interestingly, neither Southwest Airlines nor Hawaiian Airlines is performing so well. Hawaiian Airlines is running 32.34% fewer domestic flights this week than in the same week in 2019. Likewise, Dallas-based Southwest Airlines is also operating substantially fewer domestic flights this week than it did in the comparable 2019 week. However, Southwest Airlines is now running more domestic flights than it did this time last year.
Is this good run going to be sustained?
What to make of this? On the surface, it’s great news. It’s not just last-minute bookings either. United States-based airlines are reporting booking periods are starting to widen again, and they are even contemplating a return to yield management. From these perspectives, it’s a reassuring sign some normality is returning.
“In the past six weeks, we’ve seen that move-out, so that bookings that are beyond 60 days are almost flat to 2019 levels, just down a few points”, CAPA quotes Delta’s Glen Hauenstein saying recently.
But the threat of COVID-19 continues to lurk in the background. According to the CDC, over 95 million or nearly 29% of the United States population have had their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccination. 52.6 million people, or nearly 16% of the population, have had both doses. The rollout of the vaccination program in the United States and its takeup have been good. That’s driving confidence, and that’s getting people back into the air.
But there’s no guarantee the vaccination will work against any new COVID variants. That is a key threat that may yet derail aviation’s rebound. And while the vaccination rate is good, it’s still a long way shy of total vaccination, and the CDC continues to warn against travel. That warning will deter some travelers and may have insurance implications.
But overall, it’s good news for America’s airlines. The airline’s CEOs will be crossing their fingers and hoping the rebound continues beyond the short term.