United Just Released Its Ramped-Up Fall Schedule—But Is It Overly Optimistic?

Flights will resume on close to 30 international routes this September

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On Friday, July 31, United Airlines announced the newest step toward ramping its flight schedule back up: starting in September, the airline will resume service on nearly 30 of its international routes to select cities in Asia, Europe, Australia, India, Latin America, and Israel. Amsterdam, Hong Kong, Tel-Aviv, Frankfurt, and Cabo San Lucas are just some of the destinations that will receive either resumed, increased, or new service under the airline’s plan.

The most significant return to service will be seen on routes to Latin America and the Caribbean. In addition to resuming service on 20 routes in the region, United announced that it is looking to expand existing service to popular vacation spots in Mexico, Hawaii, and the Caribbean. But wait, there’s more: United said it is expecting to add over 40 daily flights on more than 48 domestic routes to beef up its domestic flight schedule.

All of this action aims to put United’s operation at 40 percent of its domestic schedule and 30 percent of its international schedule (as compared to last year). Overall, the airline intends to fly 37 percent of its schedule in September—a four percent increase from its projected plan for August. Four percent may not seem like much, but at a time when air travel is struggling, the virus is raging, and travel restrictions are still more the norm than the exception, it can seem like a somewhat goliath, if not overly optimistic, goal.

“United’s announced international flight expansion is a bold and brave move that I greatly respect,” Henry Harteveldt, a travel analyst and principal at Atmosphere Research, told TripSavvy. “But the decision is predicated on international travel restrictions going away, which remains uncertain and is outside the airline’s control. If the travel restrictions remain in place, I expect United will cancel or scale back at least some of these flights.”

Of course, just because you add flights doesn’t mean there will be people willing to take them. In early July, Delta announced that it would add approximately 1,000 daily flights back into its schedule in both July and August, citing a modest yet encouraging growth in demand. However, by the time August rolled around, the small but steady increase in demand had begun to wane, and the airline announced the need to “fine-tune” its schedule.

All said and done, currently, Delta is expecting to fly around 50 percent of its domestic schedule and 30 percent of its international schedule in the coming months. Overall, the company plans to operate approximately 40 percent of its entire schedule—or three percent more than what United is expecting to fly. Like United, Delta is planning to resume key international markets in Europe, Latin America, and the Caribbean.

While United and Delta seem to be working with play-it-by-month mentalities, American Airlines went ahead and announced that, in response to lowered demand due to COVID-19, it would be significantly reducing network and route options for international routes through summer 2021. They noted that they plan to take the opportunity to reshape their global network, scrapping underperforming routes or rethinking once-popular destinations that may temporarily be less appealing to post-pandemic travelers. Most service on their international routes will be postponed until either winter 2020 or summer 2021. 

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