The good news from United keeps on rolling this week. In addition to announcing its return to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport in 2021, the airline also announced that it anticipates a hectic travel week for Thanksgiving, prompting it to add 1,400 flights to its schedule.
While travel is still down overall—the TSA reports that its daily passenger screening count is still at just 25 to 50 percent of last year’s numbers, depending on the day—there might be hope for airlines this holiday season. As of the first week of October, most major U.S. airlines predicted an extremely slow Thanksgiving week, typically the busiest travel week of the year in the United States. Their schedules were cut to match that prediction.
But because more and more travelers are booking trips at the last minute, United now expects that numbers might be far better than anticipated. In fact, the airline suggests that Thanksgiving week might be its busiest week since March when the pandemic shut down the U.S.
"We know that for many customers, this holiday season may be their first time back on a plane since the start of the pandemic, and we're committed to helping provide flexibility and a safer, clean, travel experience," Ankit Gupta, United's vice president of network planning and scheduling, said in a statement. "While this holiday travel season looks quite different than recent years, we're continuing to follow the same playbook we have all year long—watching the data and adding more flights, adjusting schedules and leveraging larger aircraft to give customers more ways to reunite with family or reach their destinations."
United has also released its December predictions; it’s now anticipating similar last-minute bookings for Christmas as it’s seen for Thanksgiving. While it will only fly 52 percent of its domestic schedule and just 43 percent of its international schedule compared to 2019, those numbers are a three-point and four-point increase, respectively, over November’s flight schedules.
Does this mean that a great comeback in aviation is imminent? Not necessarily. But as customers return to the skies for Thanksgiving and Christmas, the public’s confidence in flying will hopefully grow, translating into more bookings—as long as the virus holds off on a third wave.