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United Airlines will return Boeing 787s to LAX even as it plans for a skeletal autumn schedule

July 10, 2020
6 min read
United Airlines will return Boeing 787s to LAX even as it plans for a skeletal autumn schedule
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United Airlines may be among the more conservative U.S. carriers, flying a greatly reduced schedule during the coronavirus pandemic, but it has not lost its competitive edge.

The Chicago-based carrier has reversed plans to close its Boeing 787 pilot base in Los Angeles (LAX) citing a "changing competitive environment," United told pilots in a crew resources update on Friday viewed by TPG. Crews will initially staff the reinstated flight between Los Angeles and Sydney (SYD) that United begins in September.

The decision also comes just 10 days after American Airlines, the largest carrier at LAX, revealed that it will end most long-haul flying from the airport. Gone are flights to Beijing, Buenos Aires (EZE), Hong Kong (HKG), São Paulo (GRU) and Shanghai Pudong (PVG) -- the last pending government approval -- leaving just Auckland (AKL), London Heathrow (LHR) and Sydney to resume after the pandemic.

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United's seemingly about face on 787s in Los Angeles is more a signal of what the new normal is at airlines: flexibility. If air travel demand does not fit the schedule? Cut flights, and not 90 days early as before the crisis but less than 30 days before departure.

The same goes to staffing. Even with warnings of possible furloughs going to some 2,500 pilots on July 8, United's crew resources update shows it is willing to change its plans quickly and adeptly in response to the market.

United still faces a tough road ahead. The airline is among those more exposed to the slowdown in business and international travel, neither of which have returned in significant numbers. The stalling recovery has, to date, been led by U.S. domestic leisure flyers.

Related: United Airlines sees Boeing 787 as new long-haul ‘workhorse'

The return of leisure travelers first has been an outsized benefit to low-cost carriers, like Frontier Airlines and Spirit Airlines. American has also benefitted as the major carrier with the largest domestic schedule.

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In July, American plans to fly domestically around 55% of what it flew last year, according to Cirium schedules. This compares to just 30% at United, 40% at Delta Air Lines or even 90% at Spirit.

But the crisis is getting worse again before it gets better. United CEO Scott Kirby told staff in a video message on July 8 viewed by TPG that the carrier expects its scheduled will be down roughly 60% year-over-year on Oct.1 -- or about 2,000 daily flights based on its Oct. 2019 schedule.

Related: Air travel recovery will come slower than expected

 

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The outlook followed industrywide recognition that the return of travelers is stalling as COVID-19 cases rise in many parts of the country. At the same time, travel restrictions are limiting visitors in many places.

“We’ve actually seen demand go [down], and revenue remains down over 80%," Kirby said. "What that means is our August schedule is likely going to be the peak of our schedule and we’re not going to be able to grow it in September and October.”

United has already pared its August schedule plans. The carrier will fly about 35% of what it flew a year ago during the month, rather than initial plans to fly 40%.

One notable fleet addition mentioned in the crew update: the Boeing 757 will return to United's domestic schedule. The jets, which do not include the airline's premium 757-200s, join Boeing 767-300ERs in the airline's operations.

Related: United Airlines scales back August schedule on resurgent coronavirus, travel restrictions

Featured image by A United Airlines Boeing 787-9 takes off from LAX in April 2016. (Photo by Alberto Riva/TPG)

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The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

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  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
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  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
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  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023