The US aviation industry is on its way back. With a strong summer underway, airlines have brought their schedules back, and passengers are once again enjoying the magic of flight – albeit with altered and reduced service profiles. Flight schedules are starting to come back and, while heavily weighted to domestic travel, is a sign of the continuing recovery.
The US passenger recovery
US passenger numbers are coming back. Hovering at around 75-80% of 2019-levels per day, airlines are encouraged by their full flights and heavy demand for domestic travel.
Business travel has also started to come back. While most of that clientele are expected to come back in the fall, the return of these travelers means higher yields for carriers. Business travel has been heavily reduced through much of 2020 and early 2021. With vaccinations rolling out and companies recognizing the importance of face-to-face interactions, those passengers are gearing up to get back onboard.
Here is how airlines are responding to passenger recovery.
Alaska Airlines has been adding flights somewhat incrementally to its schedule. Looking at flights from the start of 2021, the airline had a step-change in March, when spring break travelers started to flock back onto planes.
Another step-change came just before the unofficial start of the summer season. Leading up to Memorial Day, the airline is now operating over 1,000 flights per day.
On average, Alaska Airlines is operating around 1,070-1,100 flights per day. This compares to the roughly 625 flights per day in 2020 and 850 flights per day in 2019. These numbers should stay through the summer, though there may be a drop-off in the fall when some of the leisure flying the airline added in the summer winds down.
Alaska has inaugurated plenty of new routes. With all of them touching the Western United States, the carrier is starting to feel the recovery and is playing a game dedicated to the long run over quick pandemic-era additions. California, one of Alaska’s largest and most significant markets, has reopened, and passengers can return to the state.
One of the largest airlines in the world, American Airlines, has heavily focused on offering significant domestic capacity since last year. It has recognized that leisure travelers are mainly flying to the United States, so it has grown its capacity and schedules heavily on the domestic market.
On average, American Airlines is flying a whopping 5,000 flights per day. This is significantly higher than the roughly 3,300 flights it was operating at the same time in 2019.
American Airlines has devoted summer 2021 to adding new domestic flying. It is flying more than 150 new routes this summer while also bringing back frequencies. Plus, on key routes from Dallas to Los Angeles or from New York and Boston to Miami, customers can also find widebodies. Traditionally, these routes will often get more narrowbody service.
American has also pulled back some 2021 flying. It appeared to have gotten a little ahead of its skis with operations and has to contend with some backlogs in dealing with crew.
What is very interesting about American Airlines’ operations is looking at the significant increase in flights at this time in 2020. American Airlines decided to offer a significant amount of flying to have room for passengers who returned.
Delta Air Lines
Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines is heavily focused on its hub-based flying. The airline has also been doing a bit of a step-change in its flying.
The first step-change came with a decent-sized increase in daily flying in March due to heavy spring break travel. Another followed in April, and one in May. However, one of the most significant increases came in June, when the airline seriously ramped up summer flying.
Delta Air Lines is operating roughly 4,350 flights per day on average. This is up from the 3,600 flights per day in 2019 and 2,400 per day in 2020. Delta worked to ramp up flying in 2020, though it began to plateau those numbers as it became clear that summer 2020 was not going to be the major summer of recovery.
Considering Delta’s flying, it is mainly operating around its core hubs. Minneapolis, Detroit, Atlanta, and Salt Lake City are proving to be key. However, Delta is bringing back its Seattle, Boston, and New York hubs. New York and Boston are getting international attention again for Delta as transatlantic travel reopens.
Hawaii’s hometown airline, Hawaiian Airlines, is one of the smaller airlines in the United States.
Hawaiian Airlines is operating around 204-205 daily flights. This is down from the roughly 240-250 daily flights it operated in 2019 and the 90-or-so daily flights it flew in 2020.
Hawaiian Airlines traditionally remains relatively stable in terms of its daily flight numbers. It has a relatively small fleet in the United States, but it has a critical role. The carrier mainly flies passengers to and from the mainland United States to Hawaii.
Hawaiian Airlines has brought back its North American network and even added new flights to Austin and Orlando. However, the airline is still flying less to destinations in Asia and Oceania.
New York and Boston are two of JetBlue’s largest and most important hubs. The airline has benefited from a recovery in both markets, though it still has room to go on its daily flight operations.
JetBlue is offering around 855 daily flights. This compares to the roughly 1,030 daily flights from 2019 and around 490 daily flights from 2020.
JetBlue has been focused on offering more peak-leisure flying during the crisis. After dropping off flights added around the winter 2020-2021 holiday period, the airline started to bring back more sustained flying in March and April before bringing back numbers significantly in May, though it has cut some of its pandemic-era additions.
New York City, one of JetBlue’s most important hubs, is open again, and JetBlue is trying to coax travelers into coming to the vibrant city to see what it has to offer. JetBlue will likely hover around these daily flight numbers, if not increase them slightly in August. However, one of the small but significant increases in numbers expected in August will be the airline’s hotly-anticipated operations to London.
One of the largest airlines in the United States, Southwest Airlines, has brought back a fair bit of flying – though it is still tracking below 2019 daily averages.
Southwest is flying a respectable roughly 3,375 flights per day. While this is down from the roughly 3,900 flights per day it operated in 2019, the airline is still operating more flights now than it has since the start of the crisis per day.
Southwest has been faced with some high-profile cancelations. However, that has not necessarily deterred the airline from starting to bring back more flying. It has started to, slowly but surely, bring back daily flights. As those flights come back, it is worth noting that Southwest has done some pretty significant expansion through the crisis, including with the addition of plenty of new cities.
Southwest is very firm in its model. It has continued to offer complimentary baggage, even as other airlines start to charge for that amenity. It also continues to offer open seating on a first-come-first-serve basis with boarding groups and positions. With a new CEO coming from next year, it is still planning to retain those key parts of its offerings.
Stay informed: Sign up for our daily and weekly aviation news digests.
Turning to the ultra-low-cost carrier, then Spirit Airlines is ready to come roaring out of the crisis. It has started tracking just slightly ahead of the airline’s 2019-levels and is preparing to expand even more.
Spirit is now offering roughly 675 flights per day, on average. This is just ahead of the roughly 660 flights per day in 2019 and the 570 flights per day in 2020.
Spirit Airlines has a significant amount of expansion planned. The carrier plans on flying its bright yellow planes to more destinations, expanded frequencies, and newer aircraft. It plans to take a total of 16 brand new Airbus A320neo aircraft this year. The brightest spot in Spirit’s route network now is Florida.
United Airlines has had some pretty impressive growth in the last few weeks. That is very clear from the carrier’s daily flight numbers.
United Airlines is offering around 3,325 daily flights, on average. This is up from the roughly 2,500 daily flights in 2019 and 1,700 from 2020. It is especially impressive considering the growth in recent weeks.
United flew around 3,158 flights per day last week and just under 3,000 the week before. The airline has also been able to do that without facing significant staffing crunches leading to significant cancellations.
United plans to continue to ramp up its flying in 2021. The airline has highlighted Newark, where it will cross 400 daily flights by November as it sees strong leisure travel and a returning business travel environment.
United Airlines is coming back and focused not just on its routes but also its product. The carrier is bringing back seatback entertainment, adding plenty of new large aircraft, and building out its hubs to cater to growing demand.
Did any of these statistics surprise you? Let us know in the comments!