United Airlines bets on Hawaii, Mexico beaches in October schedule

Sep 4, 2020

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United Airlines is hoping that holidaygoers will not stop traveling after Labor Day as they traditionally do, piling on more flights to places like Cancun and Hawaii in its October schedule.

The Chicago-based Star Alliance carrier will fly about 40% of what it flew last year in October — 46% of its domestic schedule and 33% of international — United said Friday. This is up from roughly 34% of 2019 in September but still well below pre-coronavirus pandemic levels.

Hawaii and Mexican resort towns like Cancun (CUN) and Puerto Vallarta (PVR) will all see more flights return. Beaches and other outdoor activities that travelers have sough since the pandemic began feature prominently in all of these destinations.

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United’s added flying comes as airlines brace themselves for what some analysts are calling the “autumn of discontent.” Leisure flyers traditionally stay home after Labor Day when business travel returns however, because of the pandemic, most corporate flyers remain grounded.

A recent analysis by The Air Current found that business travel sentiment has only recovered to about 30% of 2019 levels, whereas leisure sentiment is at about 50% levels. That potentially leaves a lot of seats that would normally be filled by businesspeople jetting to meetings and conventions empty this fall.

“People talk about a V-shaped recovery — the airline industry has never seen a V-shaped recovery,” trade group Airlines for America (A4A) president and CEO Nicholas Calio said on Sept. 3. “We believe, if things go well, it will be 2024 before demand is where it was.”

Related: US airlines ‘fighting for survival’ with no hope of V-shaped recovery

United is adding domestic flights to all the places industry watchers would suspect in October. Suspended nonstop flights between its Denver (DEN) and Washington Dulles (IAD) hubs to points in Florida will return. In addition, flights between Los Angeles (LAX) and Eugene (EUG), Medford (MFR) and Redmond/Bend (RDM) in Oregon will come back — conveniently the month that Alaska Airlines inaugurates the Eugene and Medford routes.

In July, American Airlines confirmed that it was permanently ending flights between LAX and the three Oregon cities owing to COVID-19.

Alaska is not the only airline mounting a competitive challenge this fall. Southwest Airlines will add Miami (MIA), Palm Springs (PSP) and Steamboat Springs, Colorado (HDN) to its map this fall — United is among the dominant carriers in both Palm Springs and Steamboat. At the same time, JetBlue Airways has added flights at United’s Newark Liberty (EWR) hub and will open a new base at LAX in October.

Related: United plans 26 more international routes in September, extends change fee waiver

Internationally, United hopes to return to cities including Buenos Aires (EZE) and Lima (LIM) pending a relaxation in local country arrival restrictions. The carrier also plans to resume its nonstop between Washington and Tel Aviv (TLV).

All of the schedule additions are conditional and, as occurred in August, could be rolled back if flyers do not return.

United will load details of its October schedule over the coming weekend.

Related: American, Delta and United plan to add 15 long-haul international routes in September

Featured image by Gary Hershorn/Getty Images.

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