Facing operational issues, regional airlines make deep schedule cuts

Jan 11, 2022

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The nation’s major airlines have been scrambling to get ahead of flight-cancellation crisis that’s been brewing since Christmas Eve. Now, their regional partners are taking steps to do the same.

As the COVID- and weather-driven operational woes of U.S. airlines entered a third week, regional airlines began taking proactive measures to reset their operations in tandem with their mainline partners.

SkyWest Airlines, the nation’s largest regional airline, saw the deepest schedule cuts for January of any airline as schedules were updated this weekend in Cirium, an aviation data provider. The St. George, Utah-based carrier operates regional jets for Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines.

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For January, SkyWest is cutting an average of 683 flights per week. Of those cuts, 266 (9.4%) are flights operating as American Eagle, 232 (4.7%) are flights operating as Delta Connection and 185 (3%) are flights operating as United Express.

A spokesperson for SkyWest attributed the cuts to the same woes that mainline carriers have been facing.

“SkyWest Airlines continues to see operational impacts due to a surge in COVID cases, quarantines, and additional staffing challenges exacerbated by winter weather,” the carrier said in a statement. “Given the ongoing surge in COVID cases and related sick calls, we’ve been working with each of our major partners to proactively reduce our January schedules for the remainder of the month to ensure we’re able to adequately staff our remaining flying as we work to recover in the coming weeks.”

A TPG analysis last week found that SkyWest had canceled 13% of its scheduled flights between Dec. 22 and Jan. 3, the third most cancelations of any U.S. airline during that period on a percent basis.

More: Snapshot: 1 in 13 flights were canceled during the holidays. How US airlines fared

SkyWest wasn’t the only regional airline making short-term schedule adjustments. Mesa Airlines, which operates for American and United, cut an average of 202 weekly (14.6%) American Eagle flights in January. Commutair, which flies Embraer 145s exclusively for United, cut an average of 178 flights per week for January.

SkyWest also made significant cuts to its American Eagle flying for February and March. In February, an average of 464 flights per week are being cut, while in March, an average of 372 flights per week are being cut.

An American Airlines spokesperson told TPG that the regional capacity cuts at the airline were driven by weather and the omicron variant.

Pilot shortage: United drops service from Washington Dulles to 14 regional markets

“We’re making proactive adjustments to our schedule to mitigate any future travel disruptions related to near-term pilot staffing challenges at our regional carriers, including impacts of Omicron,” the carrier said. “With a network that offers more daily departures than any other major U.S. carrier, we expect the number of customers affected by these changes to be minimal and we’re reaching out to those affected to provide alternate travel options to get them to their destinations.”

Beyond the COVID-related staffing issues of the past few weeks, regional airlines are also facing an ongoing pilot shortage that has caused a reduction in flying for some airlines. Last month, United CEO Scott Kirby said the company has had to park nearly 100 regional jets due to the shortage. United just exited 11 regional markets completely and will be ending 14 regional routes from its Washington Dulles (IAD) hub in March.

Featured photo by AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images.

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