Looking Beyond the Big Four’s July Schedule

American, Delta, Schedule Changes, United

Much of my analysis on schedules so far has focused on the Big 4 — American, Delta, Southwest, and United — but there is a whole world beyond them that I’ve been ignoring. It’s time to fix that. I sat with Diio by Cirium and expanded my look into July schedule data this weekend. Before I get into this, a couple notes. First, I’m still focusing on domestic travel, though look out tomorrow for the latest Cranky Flier Interview where I discuss international with my special guest. Also, Hawaiian isn’t included because it hasn’t filed its July schedule yet. Since the state decided to extend the quarantine through July last week, I imagine Hawaiian will continue its barebones operation.

I started my journey with a look at how each airline was scheduled year-over-year, and I did include the Big 4 for comparison purposes. For this analysis, I decided to use the number of seats instead of flights or available seat miles (ASMs). It gives an clearer picture for what I’m looking at here.

I took a single week this July and compared it to a single week last July. The red bar above shows you the percent of seats by airline operating this year versus last year. The blue bar behind it is the percent of seats departing from hotspot markets versus last year.

As a reminder from a previous analysis, hotspots are the coastal locations that were hit by COVID-19 earliest and hardest where travel demand is weaker. I drew my line to include everything west of the Cascades and Sierra Nevada along the West Coast (excluding the Central Valley in California). It also includes Washington/Dulles and National and everything to the northeast including all of Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, and the eastern half of Pennsylvania.

What stands out? Well, Allegiant and Spirit are scheduling a whole lot more than the rest. Allegiant is a little bit misleading, because it is the only airline that appears to still be doing massive cancellations close to departure. According to masFlight, between June 4 and June 11, Allegiant only completed 93.7 percent of scheduled flights. No other airline was below 98 percent on domestic routes. So just keep that in mind for Allegiant. That being said, you can see that Allegiant has cut back in hotspot markets and focused its service elsewhere.

And speaking of hotspot markets, Frontier and Spirit are the two outliers that are actually running more of their schedule in hotspots than out. I’ll talk about that in more detail shortly.

Then there’s JetBlue. It is down toward the bottom, and this is really a reflection of its route network. Just take a look at the percent of departing seats by airline in the hotspots, and you’ll see what I’m talking about:

With its primary hubs in Boston and New York, JetBlue is just being hit hard, as is Alaska with hubs dotting the West Coast. Keep in mind, these percentages show departures by city. Nearly everything that Alaska has touches a hotspot on one end or the other. JetBlue at least has some Caribbean and Florida.

But now think about how much more flying Alaska is doing compared to JetBlue year-over-year. It makes sense that they would both pull back aggressively, but Alaska is feeling bullish.

At the other end, look how little flying Allegiant does in hotspots. When you look at that chart above, you can see how much Allegiant has pulled down in those places while still largely maintaining the rest of its network. Allegiant is certainly well-built for a quick recovery if trends hold.

Lastly, I decided to look at this information a bit differently. How much had each airline shifted its network away (or toward?) hotspots in percentage terms. This was somewhat surprising.

American and Delta have emphasized their other hubs outside the hotspots, so it’s no surprise to see them with the biggest slippage year-over-year. For Alaska, that may seem strange to see since nearly everything the airline does touches a hotspot. But what this really says is that Alaska is de-emphasizing flying between hotspots and focusing more on flying to places that are outside the hotspot area, like Montana.

United has varied its schedule less, but it has put a bit more in places like Denver, shifting away from the coasts. But it’s really Spirit and Frontier which stand out for having actually shifted their networks more toward hotspots. This makes no sense, right? Well, let’s put it in context.

For Spirit, there are three hotspot cities which have more service this July than last: Hartford, Newark, and Philly. Newark is the big mover as Spirit has been able to move in further as Southwest walked away. In fact, the same goes for Frontier which didn’t serve Newark at all last July. That plus growth in Baltimore, Boston, and Los Angeles did the trick for the airline with the animal tails.

I sliced and diced this until I started seeing double, so I may be a bit data-fatigued. But really what this says is that airlines are looking at external impacts on their individual networks, considering their leisure vs corporate mix, and coming to different conclusions about how to implement network cuts. It’s been fascinating to watch.

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6 comments on “Looking Beyond the Big Four’s July Schedule

  1. Demand for leisure trips from those living away from the coasts is the relative bright spot in the US air travel market right now, and ULCCs like Allegiant and Frontier are definitely well positioned to take advantage of it.

    Anecdotally, some of my friends and relatives are reconsidering their airline preferences for leisure travel, given airlines’ cutbacks on routes and schedules… While I am personally not a big fan of Allegiant, for example, and try to steer relatives away from them due to the low frequency and high cancellation rate, Southwest has eliminated several of the nonstop routes my parents rely on to visit family, and they have been quite happy converts to Allegiant’s nonstop flights out of smaller airports.

  2. OMG man, you’ve really got nothing to do! Who cares about these numbers. Let’s just get back to work and start ticketing again, so we can get all those debit memos when we do exchanges!

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