Thanksgiving a bust? Airlines slash November schedules as demand sputters
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
There’s an old joke in the airline industry that if a carrier can’t fill a plane over Thanksgiving, then they are doing something wrong.
That may just be the case at American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines this Thanksgiving.
New numbers from travel data firm OAG paint a harsh picture of the upcoming holiday. Bookings for November at American and United are at roughly a quarter of where they were at this time last year. And reservations at Delta Air Lines are at only 12% of 2019 levels.
“It looks like the last hope of the year, Thanksgiving, will be memorable this year for all the wrong reasons,” wrote John Grant, senior analyst at airline data firm OAG.
The news of weak holiday bookings comes as airlines are now free to cut service at will. Minimum air-service rules attached to federal coronavirus aid package, or CARES Act, funds expired on Sept. 30, freeing airlines to drop destinations. American has already said it will suspend flights to 11 small communities while Delta and JetBlue Airways have indefinitely suspended flights to places like Worcester, Massachusetts (ORH). Executives at Southwest Airlines and United have said their own cuts could come if travel does not continue to rebound.
The service cuts come as more than 40,000 airline workers were furloughed or laid off beginning Oct. 1. American and United let go of the most staff — about 32,400 people between them — following the expiration of CARES Act employment protections. Congress failed to reach an agreement on an extension of federal relief before the deadline.
Many U.S. airlines loaded their updated November schedules over the weekend and it was a bloodbath. While cuts were expected as airlines have repeatedly pulled down schedules about a month out since the summer, domestic schedules fell to down more than 38%. That’s a big drop from down just 9% a week ago, a full 29-point shift in one fell swoop, according to Cirium schedules data.
American and United cut schedules the most. American’s planned U.S. flying fell by nearly 52 points to down 44% in November compared to 2019. United’s planned flying fell nearly 58 points to down 50%, Cirium shows. While not as deep, Southwest slashed its flying by 30 points to down 38%.
Schedule cuts by Delta are likely still coming with domestic flying down just 29% year-over-year in November. The airline has indicated that it will fly less than 70% of its 2019 schedule during the month, though it has not provided specific guidance.
Experts have repeatedly warned of a tough winter travel season for airlines. Historically, the period is dominated by business travelers outside of the holiday periods. This year, however, few corporate travelers are flying while leisure flyers have pulled back as they traditionally do after Labor Day.
This was part of the argument airlines and labor unions made for additional government aid: that the funds would bridge the winter and get them to the next summer season — and hopefully progress on a COVID-19 vaccine.
“[The] outlook has actually gotten darker — something I would not have believed possible just a few months ago,” IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac told reporters on the coming winter on Sept. 29.
Featured image by Alberto Riva/TPG.
Welcome to The Points Guy!
WELCOME OFFER: 80,000 Points
TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,600
CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners
*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.
- Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide, eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
- Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on orders over $12 for a minimum of one year on qualifying food purchases with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
- Earn 5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022. That’s 3X points in addition to the 2X points you already earn on travel.