Even in the face of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic – and the anticipation of a winter spike – most major US airlines are planning to increase service significantly between now and next summer.
According to Statista.com, revenue for the US airline industry is expected to end the year nearly 63 percent down from 2019, although it is expected to start recovering next year, reaching pre-COVID levels sometime in 2023.
Yet airlines already have started to resume suspended routes, introduce new itineraries and add flights to existing routes and have announced details on continued service expansions. Most expansions focus on the leisure segment, since it is expected to rebound more quickly than business travel, especially with the holiday travel season approaching.
For example, JetBlue is adding new domestic routes in markets where leisure and VFR (visiting friends and relatives) travel is showing signs of strength, according to the company. “Every market has been uniquely identified as one in which JetBlue anticipates increasing demand for leisure travel,” the company said in a statement. JetBlue “believes that routes allowing travelers to visit family and friends will be crucial to revenue over the coming months.”
Beginning on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, Southwest Airlines plans to debut new service from Chicago’s O’Hare International, along with expanding its existing service from Chicago Midway. Other expanded services announced for the first half of 2021 include flights from George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Houston-Hobby and Colorado Springs.
By the end of this year, the carrier is also planning seasonal flights to Steamboat Springs and Montrose in Colorado, and new service to Miami and Palm Springs.
“This year, customers are looking to experience more of the nation’s great outdoors,” said Andrew Watterson, executive vice president and chief commercial officer at Southwest.
Of course the industry’s plans are still subject to government approvals and regulations, restrictions in the destinations, federal health guidelines, and the situation with the pandemic. Nevertheless airlines continue to schedule both new and returning services including:
Alaska Airlines has begun offering more than a dozen new seasonal and permanent routes connecting several West Coast cities with other markets in the west, as well as with Florida cities and Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.
Las Vegas-based Allegiant is adding seven new nonstop routes, including three seasonal routes to southern Florida and two to Palm Springs in November.
Delta Air Lines launched service between Atlanta and Salt Lake City’s new airport in September and resumed service to several major business and leisure markets, including a buildup at its hub and New York JFK. And although the airline expects international travel to continue to lag domestic, it plans to add more than 50 transatlantic and transpacific flights by next summer.
JetBlue has phased in dozens of new domestic routes since July and will launch additional routes in November and December. The flights connect several new city pairs across the Southeast, Florida, the West Coast, the Caribbean and Latin America.
United Airlines is offering new nonstop flights from several Midwestern and Northeastern cities to Florida destinations through the holidays. The airline also has expanded its winter international schedule by adding eight new routes and flights to 19 destinations in Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America.
In addition, JetBlue and American Airlines have entered into a codeshare agreement which is awaiting government review. Through the partnership, JetBlue will gain connectivity to more US destinations, while American will offer new international routes.
“This partnership with American is the next step in our plan to accelerate our coronavirus recovery, get our crewmembers and our aircraft flying again, and fuel JetBlue’s growth into the future,” said Joanna Geraghty, JetBlue’s president and CEO.