Southwest Slashes September Flights, Everyone Else Remains Quiet

Schedule Changes

This week on Skeds of air Lines, that Texan cowboy — Southwest — decided the time had come to face reality and make a move. But that was pretty much all of the big action at the O.K. Corral. Everyone else went back to the saloon to think about what’s next, giving Cirium a much-needed breather.

That’s not to say there weren’t some interesting little tidbits here and there. But, before we get to those, let’s start with Southwest.

Southwest Says So Long to September

Up until this week, Southwest was going to run about three-quarters of the number of flights in September that it ran last year. That has now been slashed more than 15 points to 57 percent. Here’s what the year looks like.

Data via Cirium

As you can see, this is Southwest at its lowest point versus prior year since June. And since September is already a weaker month, this means it is really pulling things down significantly.

There are an incredible 128 routes that were going to operate Sept 9-15 that now will not. (That’s my representative week for the month.) Is this concentrated anywhere in particular? Not really.

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

It’s just a wholesale pulldown. And there are another 294 routes that lose frequency. That’s not to say there aren’t bright spots. Both LA to New Orleans and Birmingham to Denver come back with daily service. In addition, 58 routes have additional frequency. Of those, however, only 9 routes actually get a daily flight increase or more. This looks like it goes back to the skeleton May schedule when Southwest became more hub-like in order to focus on maintaining connectivity despite the massive cut in flights.

Oh, and one last note. Southwest quietly snuck in an extension on Honolulu – San Diego. It was only in the schedule through October 31, but now it’s there into January which is as far out as Southwest goes right now. This, of course, relies on Hawai’i ever opening up again.

Alaska’s Last Minute August Trim

If you just checked your phone, you probably realized that yes, we are indeed in August already. But Alaska pulled down almost 4 percent of flights this month. A look at the routes shows some interesting trends.

Of the 23 routes seeing frequencies cut, only San Diego to Maui goes away entirely for the month. That’s understandable. Another 9 routes are big north-south runs like Seattle to San Francisco or San Diego. There’s a little bit of Mexico, Canada, and Alaska (from LA) alongside some smaller routes in the Pac NW. But what really stood out to me was that JFK to San Francisco is going down from 1 daily to only 3 weekly. Ouch.

On the bright side, Alaska has decided to take a swing at Santa Barbara to San Diego. The single daily flight starts Nov 20.

Delta Kills Two Routes for Good

Delta has decided to do some late summer cleaning with a few pulldowns in the next couple of months. There are 24 routes seeing shrinkage in Latin America and the Caribbean. That’s just reacting to demand and ever-shifting entry restrictions. There are another 6 New York routes getting pruned. But this isn’t the interesting part of the story.

It looks like Delta has decided to permanently cancel Austin to Cincinnati and Albuquerque to Minneapolis/St Paul. Those were already suspended and now they’re out. I do also see Delta going from 1 to 3 daily frequencies well into the future for Mexico City from both JFK and Los Angeles. I wonder if this is taking over some service from Aeromexico.

Allegiant and Spirit Make Tweaks

Both Allegiant and Spirit have made some cuts, but they aren’t all that severe. The biggest change is that Spirit is whacking 5 percent of September flights on top of the flying it already cut that month. Instead of 46.2 percent of last year’s schedule, Spirit will run 43.7 percent now.

Meanwhile, Allegiant has trimmed a bit off the next couple months. August saw 1.7 percent of flights cut down, and that was the biggest of any month. It’s a lot of Florida (or, a large percent of a little) and a bit of Vegas.

United Pulls Hong Kong, Adds Small Markets

United also took this week to do a little housekeeping. Most notably, United pulled all Hong Kong flights through September. You’ll recall that United was particularly proud that it was going to start flying Chicago to Hong Kong in September. Now it’s not. This presumably is related to the onerous testing rules for flight crews that had the pilots balk. Hopefully this eventually gets worked out, but I’m not so sure it will happen anytime soon.

United also took some time to pull back in Latin/Caribbean markets, especially Central America and Lima. But it’s also adding some flights for the long run.

  • Houston to Chattanooga starts up October 1 followed by Abilene on October 21
  • Denver gets a flight to Alamosa on October 1 and heads to Sioux City on October 14,
  • Denver steals one of Chicago’s three daily flights to Rochester (MN) starting October 1

That’s a wrap for this week. We’ll see if any airlines wake up from their slumbers on the next episode of Skeds of air Lines.

Get Cranky in Your Inbox!

The airline industry moves fast. Sign up and get every Cranky post in your inbox for free.

16 comments on “Southwest Slashes September Flights, Everyone Else Remains Quiet

  1. Cranky,

    I love love love this soap opera format of yours. Makes me laugh & on a Monday it’s exactly what I need to get me going.


  2. It feels like airlines are closer to April/May than July schedule at this point. It’s hard for me to not see the need to do massive headcount reduction with this level of demand.

    1. FC,
      CF can add his color but it appears that capacity for Sept is still considerably higher than May and even June for nearly all carriers.
      WN is basically flat Sept vs June while the US to US only capacity is up about 50%; AA, AS B6 and the ULCCs are basically in that range while DL and UA are considerably above the industry growth rates.
      DL and UA appear to have used the summer to add enough flights for their domestic systems to function as hubs – which AA and AS largely achieved earlier.
      I suspect that this is basically the level of capacity we will see for most carriers until either the number of cases dramatically decreases and we don’t see a fall wave and/or a vaccine is developed and implemented and being given.
      If international borders start opening, then the global carriers might start adding back some international flights but DL pulled back its international schedules for the winter, basically reflecting a pretty skeleton international network until the spring.

      1. Well, we haven’t really seen the final cuts for September yet. WN has been cutting the least and also make its final cuts earlier than other airlines. I would be shocked if other airlines don’t make further cuts over the next few weeks. It would require an earlier rebound in demand.

        1. FC,

          I have to agree with you. How can airlines expect demand when a pandemic is raging & as a result, job losses are increasing.

  3. You’re spot on re Delta and Aeromexico – this is a one-for-one replacement for AM‘s MEX-JFK, which is going away September 1.

  4. Southwest’s move is great for its competitors. Unless we get another COVID surprise (like the Sunbelt Spike — no one understood the extent of COVID seasonality in June) the country is quickly moving toward virus burnout. “Herd immunity” if you prefer. Despite our woeful political leadership and incompetent/biased media, Americans seem to understand this. Traffic is already starting to spool higher again — something I didn’t expect to see until next weekend based on the case/hospitalization counts. We finally crossed 800K yesterday on enplanements, and did it easily. While the historic peak summer travel season is ending soon, I expect we’ll see it extended this year due to pent up travel demand. September should be a good month for leisure travel demand.

    The rebound of leisure traffic will keep the US airline industry in business, but a real rebound will only occur when business travel resumes. That’s likely to be much slower, absent a vaccine. NO ONE will be heading to a convention anytime soon. But I think business travel will start creeping back next month. Honestly, if you’re under 50, the only reason NOT to engage in biz travel now is fear. Fear will ebb, but slowly.

    1. Unless we get another COVID surprise (like the Sunbelt Spike — no one understood the extent of COVID seasonality in June) the country is quickly moving toward virus burnout. “Herd immunity” if you prefer.

      The sunbelt spike was predictable & yet it was treated by many as a “hoax.” Furthermore this virus is NOT seasonal & if there is another spike in the fall as I believe there will be, airline passengers will dip below those figures in April. FYI to achieve “herd immunity,” 70% to 80% of the population would have to had the virus & then show antibodies when tested. As of now it’s 4% to 5% of the population, so no herd immunity.

      Perhaps you should watch the film “Contagion,” as you may learn something about how pandemics evolve.

    2. I wish that was true. But the reality is that herd immunity has never been achieved without widespread vaccination, and we’re not anywhere close – the lowest estimates are that 50% of the population would need to get COVID-19 before we started seeing anything like herd immunity. In Sweden, which did relatively little to limit the spread of the disease, only about 6% of the population has developed antibodies. If the US continued at its current rate of 60,000 new cases per day we’d have to get to at least the end of 2021 before the necessary hundreds of millions of people had contracted the disease – and of course, hundreds of thousands more deaths –

      It’s true that older people are more likely to become severely ill. But there are perfectly healthy younger adults and even children becoming gravely ill and dying of the disease too. Though things have improved since the beginning of the year we still have very limited treatment options and no understanding of long-term effects (and we do know that at least some people emerge with severe lung and heart damage, in some cases even if they were not deathly ill).

      I think we’re a long way from business travel picking up in a meaningful way, with 21 states + DC having quarantine requirements on at least some inbound travelers or residents returning from elsewhere, and most countries being closed to US residents, on top of companies’ own concerns about the health and safety of their employees and/or liability for the company if an employee gets ill or dies. I know the organization i work for (with employees in dozens of states + abroad) has a moratorium on business travel or any in-person activities through at least December 31, with exceptions for critical business functions made on a case-by-case basis with approval from HR and the CEO.

      1. As of right now – if you are going to NY, NJ or CT you must isolate for 14-days if you are traveling from all but a dozen states including, but not limited to HI, OR, ME, & PA.

    3. 1. The sunbelt spike is not seasonality-related and was absolutely predictable.

      2. We are far far away from herd immunity. Lots of people will have to get infected before we get there. And that means lots of people will have to die. How many? Here is an article that has recent stats on where we are and a tool to let you play with the numbers. Plug in your definition of herd immunity (eg 60%.), choose your estimate for fatality rate (e.g. 1.5%) and get your death toll (e.g., 2.95 million).

      1. Believe what you want. but if you want to actually understand COVID and make good business decisions, you MUST stop relying on biased and incompetent mainstream media and discover what the smart scientists are saying about COVID. Much of this can be found on Twitter. Nobel laureate Michael Levitt deserves another Nobel Prize for figuring out (last February!) that COVID follows a predictable gompertz curve of infections. There’s now also irrefutable scientific evidence that COVID (like other respiratory viruses) follows a seasonal pattern (unsurprisingly, Levitt now embraces this research, too). You don’t have to be a Republican to believe in science. You do have to open your mind to the science and data, however. You’ll be amazed what you can learn. I recommend Democrats read the European science because it’s apolitical. @BallouxFrancois is an excellent virologist and a great place to start. @FatEmperor is a great aggregator of worldwide COVID data.

    1. I wonder if ABI is on the “List of 30” since UAX is starting IAH from there?? I think a lot of Eagle cities will be axed like SWO, MHK, GGG. TBH, I think LGB is safe…remember it was US that took over AA, so it’s Parker still calling the shots – he’s always liked LGB. And remember, it was HP that took over US. HP/US/AA is the only airline to continuously serve LGB for over 30 years.

      Is WN creating a self-fulfilling prophecy at LGB by adding flights? Will they be successful in a Covid-19 environment?

  5. Denver-Alamosa is another EAS route that Boutique Air lost to Skywest. Boutique has now lost DEN-DDC, DEN-ALS, DFW-VCT-IAH, and soon possibly PIT-JST-BWI to Skywest. As much as I like the PC-12, its shortcomings with very limited baggage space and passengers wanting jets, Boutique’s product is becoming inferior.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Cranky Flier