Skip to content

United Airlines sees positive uptick in flight searches, but only for travel next year

May 01, 2020
4 min read
United Airlines sees positive uptick in flight searches, but only for travel next year
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.

United Airlines does not sugar coat pandemic reality. The travel industry has hit bottom and there are few, if any, signs that people are ready to fly again.

New bookings for the Chicago-based carrier are at "net zero" — or bookings minus cancellations — with no near-term sign of improvement, United president Scott Kirby said during a first quarter earnings call Friday. The airline has responded by slashing schedules by 90% through June.

“The real issue for us about demand is going to be that people feel safe and have some reason to travel," he said, noting that guaranteeing clean planes alone will not get people back in the air. "Disney World needs to be open… Cafes and museums in Paris need to be open before people go back, and conventions need to be open and running.”

Get Coronavirus travel updates. Stay on top of industry impacts, flight cancellations, and more.

Few Americans are traveling. The latest Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screening data shows just 154,695 people passed through airport checkpoints on April 30, just 6% of the number a year ago. The number of screenings is up slightly from a low of 87,534 on April 14.

In addition, more than 3,000 planes flown by U.S. carriers are idled having not flown during the week ending April 28, according to data from the trade organization Airlines for America (A4A).

Airlines are accelerating aircraft retirement plans to cut costs amid near-zero demand. American Airlines has removed five types from its fleet — Airbus A330-300s, Boeing 757s and 767s, Bombardier CRJ200s and Embraer E190s — and Delta Air Lines will remove its McDonnell Douglas MD-88s and MD-90s in June.

United, for its part, does not yet have plans to retire any of its more than 800 jets. To date, it has only "temporarily parked" aircraft pending a better view of the recovery before any decisions are made, the airline's chief financial officer Gerry Laderman said on Friday.

Related: Delta says goodbye to the last ‘Mad Dogs’ flying in the US amid coronavirus retirements

Sign up for our daily newsletter

United did leave analysts with at least one seed of optimism. The airline is seeing more searches on its website for travel in the spring of 2021 than it did last year for travel this spring, Kirby said.

But a 2021 recovery is a long, long way off. And next year is well after the air service and staffing protections of the government's coronavirus aid package, the CARES Act, expire on Sept. 30.

'We are planning for the environment to possibly continue at essentially net zero passenger revenues for the rest of the year and into 2021," said Kirby. "We aren’t projecting that, and certainly hope it’s better than that, but we are planning for the possibility.”

United is prepared to make difficult strategic decisions based on what it sees over the next few months. These could include involuntary furloughs or layoffs of staff, or even closing one of its eight hubs.

Related: US carriers signal slow recovery with United planning to cut June flying by 90%

The carrier reported a $1.7 billion net loss — its first since 2014 — in the first quarter. It aims to reduce its daily cash loss to $40 to $45 million by the end of June.

Cowen analyst Helane Becker said in a report Friday that United's daily loss projections are a result of the airline's quick response to the COVID-19 crisis. United was the first U.S. carrier to cut domestic capacity in early March.

Both American and Delta aim to get their daily loss, or how fast they are going through the cash in their bank accounts, to around $50 million a day by June.

Related: It may be years until passenger demand returns to 2019 levels for US airlines

Featured image by Getty Images

Top offers from our partners

How we chose these cards

Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
See all best card offers

TPG featured card

Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

2 - 10X points
10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day

Intro offer

75,000 bonus miles
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

Annual Fee

$395

Recommended Credit

740-850
Excellent
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

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.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • 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
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • 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
Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer
    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

    75,000 bonus miles
  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

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.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • 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
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • 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