American and United Load September Schedules, More Cuts For Everyone

Schedule Changes

It’s Monday, and that means it’s schedule change time. You requested it, and now the time has come to give this weekly post a name. Like sands through the hourglass, so are the skeds of air lines….

In this week’s episodes… more cuts. So many cuts. But really, what did you expect? Once again I snuggled up with Cirium data — side note: I’ve been asked to just call it Cirium, not Diio by Cirium going forward — and the results are once again gruesome.

Southwest whacked August even further at this late date, but both American and United loaded their initial September schedule cuts, so let’s just start there.

American Grows Modestly But Shakes Things Up

September actually looks pretty different than August for American. The week of August 12-18, American has 11,833 flights scheduled. For September 9-15, American has 12,553. That’s not much growth, but you do have to keep in mind that September is always a weaker month for airlines. A normal September should be lower than August. Let’s put it this way. That August week is operating 49 percent of flights compared to last year. The September week is running 56 percent of last year. So it is some growth. It’s just not much.

But this is a very different schedule in September than in August. There are 46 routes going away, 76 coming back, 223 seeing frequency decreases, and 292 seeing frequency increases. So it’s a big change, and here’s how it breaks down by hub.

Data via Cirium

Almost all the routes going away are along the East Coast. In fact, the only thing disappearing domestically west of the Rockies is Washington/National to Vegas and the summer seasonal Chicago/O’Hare to Missoula. Many of the routes going away are seasonal to places like Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard.

On the growth side, Charlotte does well for itself with a lot more routes seeing frequency increases than decreases. Miami has a lot of new mostly Latin routes coming back but it also sees frequencies decrease on a lot of off-peak days. Meanwhile, take a look at Phoenix. September means summer is over, so it’s time to try to bring back Phoenix even though temps will still be in the triple digits. I guess this falls under “our best shot at making September do anything good.”

Los Angeles get a bunch of old routes back as well, including a fair bit of Hawai’i and Mexico. Note that LAX also loses another route permanently, however. The Vancouver flight is gone for good, or least through the spring.

United Trims August, Slashes September

United was pretty happy with its international plans for September. It was so happy that it even put out a press release. That being said, growth is pretty limited. August was at 43 percent of last year while September is only 45 percent.

That August number includes a late pulldown filed this weekend. SF to Hong Kong is being pulled and a bunch of Central America flying is being reduced. On the bright side, Mumbai to Newark comes back in August now.

Versus August, United will bring 45 routes back in September. There are 30 routes going away, 137 seeing frequency decreases, and 99 seeing frequency increases. This isn’t as big as American, but it’s still something. Here’s the hub breakdown.

Data via Cirium

There are a lot of changes in Chicago, but many of those are seasonal shifts. Denver and Newark both see broad markets with frequency reductions, even if they aren’t terribly significant. In Denver, for example, of the 34 routes with decreasing frequency, only 8 see more than 3 flights cut per week. Still, it’s interesting to see in Denver since those middle-of-the-country domestic hubs are where things were looking stronger previously.

Southwest Takes Another August Cut

You know things are dire when Southwest decides to take an August cut so late in the game. It’s about 8 percent of flights, or 2,500 a week, that disappear. Now Southwest will operate about 73 percent of last year’s flights. It had planned to run 83 percent.

The cuts are pretty widespread with a whopping 230 routes losing frequency and only 5 gaining frequency. (If you’re curious, those are Atlanta to Washington/Dulles, Vegas to San Francisco, Los Angeles to Phoenix, and Denver to Indianapolis and Vegas.)

The bigger focus cities — save Vegas and Phoenix which hold up better — all seem to be hit with around 20 to 30 routes seeing frequency cuts. On top of that, there are 17 routes losing their nonstops entirely. Here’s a map:

Southwest August Route Drops map generated by the Great Circle Mapper – copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

For Southwest to cut in August so close to travel, things must be ugly.

JetBlue Takes Down August and September… Again

JetBlue had already taken down August and September, but now it’s taking things down even more. It’s ugly. August 12-18 goes from planning to operate 43 percent of last year’s flights to only 30 percent. And September 9-15 goes from 61 percent to 39 percent. That’s a lot.

In August, 9 routes go away entirely including Fort Lauderdale to Aruba, Charleston, Havana, Jacksonville, and San Jose (CR) along with Boston to Newark, JFK to Grenada, and LaGuardia to Fort Myers and Tampa. On top of this, 104 routes lose frequency.

In September, another 46 routes lose service entirely. More than half touch Florida. There are also some transcons including JFK to Ontario and Burbank going away. The almost-dead Long Beach operation gets cut further as well with Vegas, Portland, and Seattle going away early… for good. There are 120 routes that lose frequency.

There are no gains in any markets. in the near term, though in the long term, JetBlue is increasing JFK to Portland (OR) and San Jose (CA) from 4x weekly to daily.

Frontier and Allegiant Pull Down September

Frontier never wastes a week, seemingly cutting every chance it gets. In September, it pulled down about 15 percent of flights. August is at 58 percent of last year and now September is at 57 percent.

Allegiant’s original September plan was to grow by 8 percent versus last year. Now it’s going to operate only 87 percent of last year’s plan. At least, that’s what it’s thinking right now. Keep in mind that September is usually the weakest month of the year for Allegiant anyway. This September, thirty routes are being dropped and 62 lose frequency.

Delta Delays Service for Several Routes

Delta was quiet this week for the most part, but it did make a couple moves of interest.

  • Detroit – Monterrey will resume November 22 instead of October 1
  • Los Angeles – San Jose (CR) will resume November 21 instead of October 1
  • Atlanta – Bogota, Buenos Aires, Lima, Quito, Santiago, and Sao Paulo along with JFK – Sao Paulo come back in September (Atlanta-Sao Paulo is August) but will now remain less than daily through November

And that’s a wrap for this week. Will the two-headed baby prove to actually be Roberto’s daughter… or his mother? Could Julia forgive Peter for sleeping with her brother and sister in their communal yurt? Can anyone (besides Frontier) continue to cut August? Stay tuned next week to Skeds of air Lines for answers to at least one of those questions.

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30 comments on “American and United Load September Schedules, More Cuts For Everyone

  1. I would assume the AA/UA schedules for September are just initial load and that they will do more reductions in the next 3 or 4 weeks unless demand picks up again. Airlines seemed to have gotten used to publishing as large schedule as possible and then adjusting when things get closer. There doesn’t seem to be enough insensitive for them not to do that.

  2. Why is UA restarting EWR to India? The US and India are in the top four countries globally with COVID19 cases. I get the need to assure some passage for repatriation and cargo, but what’s the point of adding the BOM flight back, really?

    1. Giving it a minute or two of thought, the only reason for the BOM flight I could think of is that UA trying to give the appearance of growth. Once it is obvious that bookings are not enough to make it profitable, they will quietly pull it down. The same will happen with most domestic routes late in the fall if the virus continues to rage across the country.

    2. I’m sure there’s a huge amount of COVID-19 cargo demand between BOM and the NYC metro area (which also draws a good bit of cargo that would normally go through BOS and IAD, given the route cuts that have hit those airports), given the pharma industries in the NYC/New England area and in India. Most cargo doesn’t care about a stop or two, however, and at 7,807 statute miles EWR-BOM is a long (and expensive) nonstop flight just for cargo. Agree that that flight seems a bit odd.

      Will United be removing the economy seats from the planes it will be using on the EWR-BOM route? I can’t imagine that there is much VFR or economy-class pax demand for long distance international routes these days.

      I’m surprised we haven’t seen more airlines remove the economy seats from their widebody planes, put up bulkheads or nets, and essentially operate combi-style aircraft, with first class and business seats upfront on the main deck and freight in the back… Definitely a pain to load/unload the freight, but with air cargo rates still high in many lanes, and plenty of employees (many of whom are getting paid whether there is work for them to do or not), analyzing the economics of such a move could be a fun exercise. Swiss Air has done so with a dozen or so 777-300ERs, perhaps other airlines as well.

      1. There is a TON of pent-up repatriation demand between US-India. Its one of the few markets with 2-way demand, though mostly Indians at this point (those going back to India, and those stuck in India who need to return to the US). And Cargo. I expect Business class is probably going empty.

    3. I was flying through SFO a month ago and was surprised that Air India was operating a flight (to New Delhi, I think?)…

      Covid Express?

  3. Thanks for the graphic, Cranky.

    I don’t think I’ve ever watched an episode of a soap opera, but I know Days of Our Lives has been a very long-running show, and it’s as good a one to use as the basis for the graphic as any.

  4. Great graphic and title.

    When I first read it and before the first half cup of coffee, I thought it said “shreds of our lines” which is not far from the truth. :-)

    Seems like 45-65% capacity is about where most airlines are going to be until traffic stabilizes – which is probably dependent on a significant reduction in virus counts, removal of quarantines, and/or a vaccine.

    Despite predictions otherwise and except for the news items that have been released , most airlines seem to be committed to their pre-covid hubs/focus cities/strategies. Delta and United seem to be esp. focused on rebuilding their international networks roughly proportional to what they had before.

    A number of international flights are conversions to passenger from cargo; IIRC, Delta added Australia passenger service several weeks ago while United is converting cargo to passenger service. Delta has been flying India cargo flights while United has converted its flights to passenger flights. both are operating to TLV. Looks like UA shows a preference for NRT with just ORD-HND while DL has multiple HND and ICN gateways. DL and UA are doing as much China as they can.

    1. I am still shocked AA has not taken the time since merger (or now during covid) to eliminate a couple of their hubs. How does an airline with so much hub overlap not address it?

      When you look at the top 100 airports and rank them in order of average airfare, AA has half (5 out of 10) of their hubs in he lower half of the top 100. Far more than any other airline.

      Parker must have had some type of an agreement with the unions about hub closures when he asked for their assistance during the merger.

  5. The most interesting thing about this week’s data is Southwest. Except for a few long/thin routes out of HOU/LAS/PHX, none of WN’s “hubs” lost a route in this round. DEN/DAL/STL/MDW/BNA/ATL and BWI stay the same route wise. WN’s transformation into more heavily hub and spoke airline as been occurring gradually over the past decade or so but the pandemic seems to be moving the process along at a much quicker pace. I’m not speculating the end of point-to-point for WN, far from it, but the COVID era WN network is undergoing a rather dramatic systematic change.

    1. When passenger demand is thin, it makes sense to consolidate them, so networks get more hubby. Agree that this is an acceleration of an existing trend – Southwest continues to get more and more similar to a “normal” carrier, though it’s still clearly quite different from American, Delta, United, etc.

  6. Very interesting. I trust you still have a day job, or is this it? I’m not sure my comments do much for your revenues. but…!

    If you have the time, perhaps a post on the routes actually making profits, by whom. (Maybe that’ll be a TPILB, which us tariff readers of days-gone-by remember so fondly as: “This Page Intentionally Left Blank.”)

    Happy Monday! It’s August, the run for Lord Stanley!

  7. Looks like you covered the WN SEA-GEG and PHX-SDF flights in your July 20th post as last-minute adds, but now they’re already being cut. Do they operate at all? I suppose it’s a short-notice change of heart.

    1. Johosofat – Those two were actually going to go through the full month, but now they’ve been pulled to stop on August 10. So they are running the last minute stuff but just killing beyond that for the rest of August.

  8. “Once again I snuggled up with Cirum data — side note: I’ve been asked to just call it Cirium, not Diio by Cirium going forward“

    Then perhaps you should actually call her Cirium, not Cirum :)

  9. Re American LAX-YVR: isn’t that suspension almost certainly due to the likelihood that the US-Canada border looks like it will remain closed to non-essential travel well into 2021?

    Up here, the media is consistently reporting polls showing 85% of the public wants the border to remain closed; no way any politician, especially not a prime minister leading a minority government that could go to an election at any time, will open in the face of that (and I think this is a case of politics leading to the correct outcome). And a similar portion of Canadians thinks it’s too dangerous to travel to the US now, so even though the US does allow Canadians to enter the US by air, there can’t be much demand.

    All that is to say that “permanent” is a relative phrase. Sounds more like AA reflecting the reality that the LAX-YVR market is likely to remain restricted and low demand for a very long time, even by COVID standards.

    1. Alex – Good thought, but I don’t think that’s it. Right now, AA has pulled down a ton of Canada through its Sept schedule into early October. But after that, everything is still status quo except for two routes.
      DFW-Vancouver is now pulled through the end of this year but comes back in January. Meanwhile, LAX-Vancouver is gone all the way through next May. AA won’t serve Vancouver at all until DFW comes back in January, but if this was just a general Canada strategy, LAX wouldn’t have been canceled all the way through May. It looks like they’ll just make it seasonal at best.

      1. Well, there’s still some Canada demand. My point is that Canada demand is even weaker than most, and is likely to remain so well into next year — basically until the US gets its outbreak vaguely under control, which doesn’t appear likely until the mythical vaccine. And LAX being a relatively weak hub for AA, it won’t be the one airport that handles flights to any Canadian city in AA’s network. So I don’t think this says much about whether AA will serve LAX-YVR once legal restrictions on US-Canada travel end.

  10. The logo is extremely apropos. So is your introduction, “Like sands through the hourglass…”. This whole mess is a bit of a soap opera. I hope it has a better ending than some of them. I remember when “Days of Our Lives” first started. I know. I’m old. One of my high school classmates was the head writer for a soap opera (not “Days of Our Lives”). One of the early draws of that particular soap was that it starred the well-known actor, MacDonald Carey. Totally useless information in case someone doesn’t know the back story.

      1. There were four different ones. Since I haven’t seen my classmate for many years, I’ll keep the name to myself for the sake of privacy. Thanks for your understanding,

    1. William – Right now, JFK-SMF is planned to return Oct 1 and go daily for the rest of the year. Then it goes sub-daily next year.

      1. Thank you I had been misinformed. Looks like October is 2x/day though, which seems like quite a jump. BOS-SMF is still loaded 4x/week starting in October. Strange times…

        1. Wlliam – Oh, whoops. I thought I was doing a bidirectional look on my quick query, but it was only one way. So yes, it’s 2x a day Oct through the end of the year. Then in Jan it goes down to one daily plus another sub-daily. Of course, this is all likely to change.

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