United, Spirit Lock Down October While the Rest Tinker In Lesiure Markets – Cranky Flier

On this week’s episode, the Globe — I just can’t keep calling him the Tulip — and the Big Yellow Bird finally ended the growing suspense by announcing their plans for October. Now, everyone is on the same page, more than at any time during this pandemic. Meanwhile, the other residents of Airlineville were mostly quiet, playing with their toys and plotting their futures one route at a time. It was a quiet, long weekend with few surprises, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t little nuggets hiding in plain sight.

Like sands through the hourglass, so are the Skeds of air Lines.

United was the last of the big four to file its October schedule, and now we can look at how the big four airlines have evolved their plans since the beginning of the pandemic. I find if fascinating that they’ve now all settled into the same plan.

You can see some very different strategies since the pandemic hit in March. Southwest cut the least, followed by American which surged early when it made the right bet that demand would come back in June. Delta and United stayed conservative, though Delta added back more (offset by its continued policy of blocking the middle seat). Now here we are in October, and they’ve all come together in the 49 to 55 percent range. The name of the game now is to see whether this diverges in future months.

And now, let’s see what each airline has done this past week.

American Dabbles in the Outdoors, Makes Some Europe Switches

It was a relatively quiet week for American, but that doesn’t mean the airline didn’t make some interesting long-term moves.

Let’s start with the long-haul. American was flying Philly to Amsterdam and Dublin year-round. It was also flying from Dallas/Fort Worth to Amsterdam and Dublin seasonally. Over the weekend, American flipped the script. Now these cities will get year-round service from DFW. Philly service doesn’t return until March 27.

Meanwhile, LA to Sydney wasn’t supposed to return until March 26. Now, it will come back November 10 for some reason. Cargo? It’s hard to say, but it can’t be for passenger demand. Australia most certainly won’t be open for business by then.

In the short-haul market, American has beefed up winter frequencies in some of its ski markets like Jackson, Bozeman, Aspen, etc. One notable frequency increase is in Sioux Falls to Phoenix. Sioux City may be going away, but nearby Sioux Falls gained Charlotte last week, so it’s doing rather well.

Beyond that, some new and returning routes are coming online.

  • Charlotte to Appleton (WI) starts November 5
  • Chicago/O’Hare to Sarasota returns for the winter on November 4
  • Daytona Beach to DFW and Philly starts December 17
  • Philadelphia to Salt Lake City returns December 17
  • Philadelphia to Palm Springs operates weekly in the winter starting December 19

Alaska Shifts East-West for North-South

The ongoing shifting in Alaska’s network to re-orient north-south continues as planned. The resumption of Portland to Boston and Minneapolis/St Paul along with San Francisco to Orlando has now been pushed from October 4 to November 20. Further, Seattle to Dallas/Fort Worth, Philly, and Washington/Dulles each lose a frequency from October 4 through November 20. The same goes for Portland to Phoenix and it happens in early December for Portland to Palm Springs.

Meanwhile, Seattle to Tucson gets an extra daily flight starting October 1. Seattle to Reno gets the same from October 4 through November 20. Lastly, Seattle to Santa Barbara grows by one a day from November 20 through the end of the year.

Delta Tinkers Everywhere

It was a week of tweaking for Delta, but none of it was enormous. In fact, let’s just bullet point the notable moves.

  • Atlanta to Munich and Boston to Paris/CDG were coming back in October but now won’t be coming back until April 1, 2021.
  • JFK to Accra and Dakar get a little more frequency than previously planned.
  • Minor frequency cuts (one or two a week) are coming to JFK to Barcelona, Brussels, Dublin, Frankfurt, Madrid, Milan, Rome, and Zurich this fall.
  • Salt Lake gets Guadalajara service November 8 to January 31 for the first time since January 2018.
  • Los Angeles to Salvador begins December 19.

Spirit Cuts October in Half

I showed what the big four were doing in October at the top of this post, but I mentioned Spirit had also made its October cuts. The airline fits right in line with the big guys, having 51 percent of flights operating versus last year.

Spirit certainly has gotten a whole lot more bearish since those lofty July days.

United Comes in the Lowest

Though everyone is congregating around 50 percent of last year’s flight numbers, United is actually the lowest at just shy of 49 percent.

A whopping 79 routes that didn’t operate in September will return in October. They are all over the map, ranging from the introduction of Denver to Sioux City (planned before) to a host of Latin/Caribbean markets and yes, Hawai’i. Of course, we’ll see if Hawai’i sticks since it all depends upon the quarantine being lifted. Several short-haul flights return including LA to Palm Springs and Albany to Newark.

Meanwhile, there are a few routes that operated in September that won’t in October.

  • Chicago/O’Hare – Jackson Hole
  • Chicago/O’Hare – Montreal
  • Chicago/O’Hare – Tokyo/Haneda
  • Houston/Intercontinental – Aruba
  • Houston/Intercontinental – Montego Bay
  • Houston/Intercontinental – Punta Cana
  • Los Angeles – Bozeman
  • San Francisco – Baltimore
  • San Francisco – Monterey

Many of these have a seasonal feel to them, but Chicago to Tokyo disappearing is telling.

Meanwhile, Key West shifts one daily flight this winter from O’Hare over to Washington/Dulles. And lastly, Ithaca and Manchester (NH) will now remain suspended until March 28.

Southwest Bumps Up October

As always, Southwest has been reading the tea leaves and has added 2.6 points worth of flights back in October. Most are just frequency increases at low levels, but a couple of routes that were going to be in the November schedule have been pulled forward into October. That includes Chicago/Midway to Norfolk, Memphis to Orlando, and Panama City to St Louis.

And that’s all for this week. Stay tuned for next week’s episode of Skeds of air Lines.

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