Alaska Slashes the Fall, American Takes September Down, and Southwest Extends

Schedule Changes

It is time for another episode of Skeds of air Lines. This week may seem somewhat quiet on the surface, but underneath that facade, there’s turbulence a brewin’. The Eagle (American), the Eskimo (Alaska), and Pualani (Hawaiian) all proved to think alike, each taking September down a notch. The Eskimo, not one to be outdone, brought things down all the way into November. The Widget (Delta) did a little international pruning for October as well.

It’s not all bad news, however. The Big Yellow Bird (Spirit) actually bumped September up a bit. And the Tulip (sounds better than the Globe for United, right?) launched a few new routes, as we discussed here last week. Meanwhile, the Luv Bug (Southwest) extended its schedule all the way into April. It wasn’t a particularly eventful schedule, but that won’t stop us from talking about it.

All this and more on this week’s episode. Like sands through the hourglass, so are the…

American Takes September Down Again

This isn’t the first time, and it may not be the last. American has once again taken September schedules down. This time, flights have been cropped nearly 9 percent for the month.

Forty routes that were going to operate now… won’t. That includes 15 from Washington/National, 9 routes from Chicago, 8 from LA (including Boston), 4 from Miami (all international), 2 from Dallas/Fort Worth (both long haul, Haneda and Hong Kong), and a lonely 1 from both Phoenix (down to Mexico City) and Philly (to Asheville).

But there’s a bigger picture here. American has reverted to pieces of its previous strategy when demand was low. In Philadelphia, Tuesdays and Saturdays have been pulled down to near nothing. It’s back to only having service to the other hubs plus Boston and a couple of Florida cities. Here’s how it looks.

Data via Cirium

And then there’s Chicago. American had previously been planning a split schedule where Thursday through Sunday were peak days and Monday through Wednesday were off peak. Now, Thursday has been made off-peak. Here’s how it looks.

Data via Cirium

Alaska Gets Real Until Thanksgiving

This weekend, Alaska took the opportunity to pull down flying significantly through November 19. There’s a lot of Hawai’i and Canada coming down, and the suspension of JFK to LA is now going all the way until Thanksgiving. Will it ever come back?

The best way to look at this is from a high level. Here’s a look at flights this year compared to last year.

Data via Cirium

The dotted line is what was there last week. The solid line is what’s there now. Make no mistake… November may look like it’s seeing big growth, but that’s really from November 20 through the end of the month during the holiday season which hasn’t been touchded yet. Until then, it’s pretty similar to October.

Delta Adjusts Europe, More in October

Delta has done some early pulling down for October and into November. Much of the pulldown is to match what’s happening in September already. For example, Amsterdam to Minneapolis, Portland, and Salt Lake all remain suspended. There is a whole lot more than that.

Interestingly, the 3 weekly flights from Atlanta to Dublin in September go away in October, but JFK to Dublin comes back into the schedule. Meanwhile, as another example, Boston to London has one more flight per week in October than September while JFK to Milan has two more. The are a lot of adjustments going in both directions.

There are 10 routes that come back into existence. JFK to Brussels, Dublin, Frankfurt, and Zurich are scheduled to return in October, as is Seattle to Paris. In the Americas, it looks like Atlanta to Grand Cayman, Liberia, San Jose (CR), and San Salvador all come back, as does JFK to Bermuda. Considering we know nothing about where Americans will be able to travel in October, I’d consider this a very preliminary hope of a schedule.

Huge Allegiant News

Just kidding. Allegiant put nonstops from Boston to Grand Rapids and Austin to Louisville into the Oct/Nov schedule. Try to contain your excitement.

Hawaiian Gets Ahead of the Quarantine Curve

It has been a rough go of things for Hawaiian, and it’s not looking better in September. Usually Hawaiian waits until a decision is made on extending the quarantine before setting its schedule, but that’s not happening in September. It’s just assuming the extension is a foregone conclusion.

On mainland flying versus August, LA to Honolulu goes from daily to 8 weekly. That’s the good news. Portland to Honolulu drops from daily to 5 weekly and Sacramento to Honolulu goes from daily to 3 weekly.

On interisland flying, there is modest growth on all 717 routes from Honolulu and Kahului, but it’s not much to speak of. It’s just another slog of a month for the airline.

Spirit Actually Grows in September

Spirit has already pulled down September, but apparently it’s having regrets. The airline is adding 5 routes and increasing frequencies on 12 others.

New September Spirit Routes (Green) and Increased Frequencies (Purple) Map generated by the Great Circle Mapper – copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

Let’s just bask in the glow of this relatively minor growth. It’s… something.

United Takes a Swing On New Routes

You already know all about United’s new flights from a bunch of non-hubs in the Northeast and Midwest down to Florida. Or if you don’t, well, read this.

But United also snuck in a couple of other new routes this week. The EAS-supported route from Denver to Cheyenne joins the network on November 12 while Houston to Tallahassee comes online November 18. The latter joins three other panhandle airports already served by United. Apparently there’s room for one more?

Oh, and we can’t forget the news that the booming metropolis of Presque Isle in Maine sees 5 weekly flights move from Newark down to Washington/Dulles starting October 1. Newark still keeps 1 daily.

Lastly, United is beefing up some frequencies in Latin markets from October into next year. I’m not sure if this is just wishful thinking or what, but United is at least being hopeful here.

United Latin Growth Map generated by the Great Circle Mapper – copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

Southwest Extends the Schedule And Adds An Interesting Route

This week, Southwest extended its scheduled into the middle of April. That’s a pretty lengthy extension, but it doesn’t look too significant overall. I mean, considering how far away January is, I’m not surprised to see this as mostly just an extension of what was happening in December with a little seasonal fluctuation thrown in. Here’s the map showing just how things look year-over-year.

Data via Cirium

As you can see, Southwest is staying relatively flat year-over-year from the end of October through the schedule, but let’s be honest, this is far from final. September is the last realistic month we have right now. We’ll just have to wait until things get closer to know what the real plan will be for each subsequent month.

But wait, I did mention an interesting new route. You probably think I’m talking about Steamboat Springs which gets its first Southwest service from Denver and Dallas (on weekends for the latter), but no. I’m more interested in one looooong flight… Norfolk to San Diego.

Southwest has been shying away from transcon flying for some time, but this one bucks the trend. It’s also a special case. This is the Navy express, shuttling military folks back and forth. In 2019, this was the largest route without nonstop service in the US. Ok, ok, Southwest flew it on Saturdays 9 times last year, so technically there was service there, but I’m not really counting that.

Last year, the route had 181 passengers per day each way. Now it’ll have a nonstop, but why now? Ah, well, guess who just snagged the government contract rate away from Delta? That’s right. Starting October 1, Southwest is the government contractor. Anyway, just thought that was a fun little tidbit.

And that’s a wrap on what was a relatively uneventful week. Next week… you’re on your own. I’ll be on vacation starting tomorrow for a week. If there’s something incredible that happens, I’ll cover it on delay. Otherwise, you can go watch re-runs of past weeks on Skeds of air Lines.

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27 comments on “Alaska Slashes the Fall, American Takes September Down, and Southwest Extends

  1. Can you do a map showing AA additions/ subtractions/ frequency changes per hub? That would be super helpful.
    Thank you!

      1. oh i’m aware of that guy and his postings. He use to do it on Sunday but has now moved it to Saturday. I just switched jobs and use to have access to Diio / Cirium but no longer. That said, I’ll keep an eye out tomorrow.

  2. WTF? AA cuts LAX non stops to Boston? Heresy! As someone who has flown that route probably 200 times over my (long) lifetime this seems to be hard to believe. Not that I don’t trust the Cranky, but I had to go to to see for myself. Wow. Lucky future travelers will have to go through DFW, Philly or Charlotte. I think AA had up to 6 daily non stops last fall. That was a flagship flight at one time? Other than Covid, who dealt the fatal blow? Jet Blue or Delta?


    1. Literally zero business demand has cause this. It’s not rocket science.
      Why are people so shocked?
      If you want to fly nonstop, I think JetBlue may for now have one or two flights a day.
      Otherwise if you MUST fly AA you can simply go through DFW or CLT or maybe ORD.

    2. David – This isn’t anything new. American hasn’t regularly flown LA to Boston for months. Neither has Alaska. United is only doing 4 a week through Sept and Delta has just 1 flight a day. Only JetBlue has a substantial presence.

  3. Norfolk (ORF) is my hometown airport, sort of- disregarding PHF. I’m a bit surprised it took this long to get the SAN route, connecting the two largest naval bases in the continental US. Cranky, you said “In 2019, this was the largest route without nonstop service in the US.” Largest by what measure, by the 181 pax/day?

    This route will be a blessing though, in the past year or two we’re finally starting to see more options for flying out west that don’t require a stop at one of the east coast hubs. It’d be nice if Southwest kept up the ORF-STL route they experimented with a few weeks ago as well, I wonder how successful that was.

  4. With government money ending, airlines are now having to file schedules that reflect where they have some potential to make money; it isn’t a surprise that routes that likely were not profitable pre-covid will disappear. Carriers that can operate in those markets will grow. Airlines realize they have to fly at least a core schedule – even at reduced schedule – that they intend to be able to offer when greater demand returns.

    Market analysts also track capacity and Bank of America’s comments this morning on overall cuts and lack of business demand are helping to send airline stocks lower. Cranky Flier provides the only place on the web where all of these capacity changes can be seen in the context of an airline’s entire strategy which is why these Monday morning updates are so important.

  5. I’m curious as to how the US government’s city pairs program works — how they decide which airports get a contract. A couple of times in the past few years I had to fly to DC on a ticket paid by the government. The options from the L.A. area are what you’d expect: non-stop service from LAX (American to National, United to Dulles, Southwest to BWI), and connecting service from other area airports. But while Burbank, Ontario, and Orange County have contract rates to all DC area airports, Long Beach only has a contract rate to BWI. This wouldn’t be an issue because I prefer flying non-stop anyway, but for one of the flights a non-stop wasn’t available (either due to schedule or to being sold out, I don’t remember). A reasonable connection from National to Long Beach did exist, but I couldn’t get on it because the whole route wasn’t on the government contract; I ended up flying to LAX via Phoenix, waving bye-bye to the Long Beach flight that was leaving at the same time.

      1. Yes, lots of reading, but after some quick skimming I don’t think the answer is there. The closest I found was “for the first time CPP solicited all eligible non-stop service markets traveled by government travelers awarding 96.7%.” From this and some other comments I saw, it looks like the government is soliciting offers for some (many) city pairs, the airlines make offers for most (perhaps all) of these pairs (unclear if they can offer unsolicited pairs), and then the government awards some but not all of the offers. The criteria for awards are partly spelled out: a combination of service quality and price. The criteria for solicitation are not spelled out at all, but the quote above suggests it’s partly based on past travel data (including travel outside the city-pair program). This could lead to a chicken and egg problem in some markets like Los Angeles–Washington: perhaps LGB–DCA is not solicited because there are no travelers, but the reason there are no travelers is that the would-be travelers end up flying from LAX, because LGB–DCA is not in the city pair program…

        Then again, we don’t even know if LGB–DCA was not solicited, or solicited but no offers were made, or offers were made but didn’t meet award criteria. We do know that American won the FY21 award for LGB–BWI (previously held by Southwest); surely American intend to serve it through Phoenix, and they could probably offer to serve LGB–DCA on similar terms.

        1. AA getting the LGB-DCA contract (among a few other LGB contracts) is a decent sign they don’t intend to pull out right away, but it’s far from certain. A few years ago Alaska had the SAN-SFO contract but pulled out of the route mid-year. The contract was re-awarded to another airline for the remainder of the fiscal year.

          Interestingly, the LGB-PHX contract itself went to WN, not AA.

    1. The GSA City-Pair program is now 40 years old. It’s history is a goldmine for airline route and air fare junkies. My comments here represent my government employment up through 1999, so things may have changed.

      The fares were never negoitated. They just had to be certified as less than the airline’s Y fare, have no advance purchase requirments, not be capacity-controlled, apply one-way, and reservations could be cancelled at the fares at any time. (This latter point used to drive airlines crazy!) GSA also eventually decided to ask for some capacity-controlled contract fares.

      Fares had to be submitted, and fixed 5, 6 months ahead of the annual October 1 start dates. No traveler guaranteed numbers. Numbers were based on most recent origin-destination history, adjusted to the extent the agencies knew something might have changed or be changing–like they knew, or know! But, as GSA is program’s government representative and has no responsibility for budgeting travel, traveler foreasts, by route, are nothing more than a guess, and numbers are not guraranteed,

      In the early years, airlines like Texas International made their marks bidding on this program. Airlines and routes that government travelers were expected to take to use these contract fares were always a subject for disputes between travelers and their agencies, and GSA. Many of us came up with all sorts of ways to justify not using the contract airlines. Sometimes the issues were that the indirect routes that had to be used, airlines that were believed to be inferior, or the fact that some airline (like TWA, DC-St. Louis) had a monopoly and we felt that it was screwing the travelers and the government on that route and we wanted to show it that we had a right to use some other airline. (I was adamant I wasn’t going to use TWA and its high fares, and I’d be happy to use UA via ORD and the government non-contract fares it was offering. Sometimes my bosses accepted my plans, sometime not.

      Some airlines, good airlines refused to participate in the program. DL and Southwest were slow to participate. Why any airline did or did not want to participate was often unclear. Reading the comments of airlines’ pricing people at GSA’s annual preproposal and proposal conferences conferences is a wonderful read–full of whining, hilarity, contentiousness, promises made/promises never kept, airline vs. GSA relations, what have you.

      If you need project to work on the upcoming year, try to review and give some thought to the GSA city-pair program. Go back to its beginning in 1980, and come on up to today. Did the program work? Did the government get something of value? Were the airlines treated fairly. If you see problems, how should the program be fixed?

      Cranky, enjoy your vacation. Not to worry, most of us aren’t going anywhere. We be here when you return. Enjoy!

      1. One fairly recent change is that there is some formal guidance about choosing a non-contract airline. You could generally justify it as “being necessary to meet mission requirements” but now if another airline offers a lower commercial (i.e. available to the public) restricted (i.e. non-refundable with change fees) fare, you can choose it if you can justify the low likelihood of requiring a change or cancellation. I believe if the contract carrier matches that lower fare, you’re still supposed to use the contract carrier.

        It helps that nonstop flights are a major factor for “service quality”, allowing an airline offering a nonstop flight to win the contract even with a slightly higher fare than a competitor offering only connecting flight options but a lower fare. So many times choosing a non-contract carrier means taking a connecting flight instead of nonstop. SAN is a great example: Southwest has a lot of contracts since they offer a lot of point-to-point nonstop flights and not just flights to hubs like the major carriers. You can look at SAN-WAS for a specific example of how nonstop flights can command a higher price: SAN-DCA has the lowest fare with connecting service on AA, with SAN-IAD (UA) and SAN-BWI (WN) being more expensive nonstops.

  6. “And the Tulip (sounds better than the Globe for United, right?)”

    United has a pretty neat set of videos about itself and operations called “Big Metal Bird”, always like to see it on the IFE.

    So that is what I call UA

    1. AA MD-80s stare angrily at UA planes from the desert retirement home for even daring to call themselves “Big Metal Birds.”

  7. Interesting that AA is treating Tuesdays and Saturdays in PHL like it’s the day after Thanksgiving. I guess in a leisure-oriented business, travellers will accept that they can’t always fly on their preferred dates? I wonder if this explains the current TSA enplanement data, where peak days of the week are even more peak. Makes sense if you can’t book a nonstop flight on the off-peak days.

    Speaking of enplanements, the numbers are rising again — completely predictable as the Sunbelt spike fades away and COVID recedes in America. But the situation is different from late spring when it last looked like COVID was fading in America (even the smart COVID scientists didn’t then understand the South’s seasonal summer vulnerability to COVID). Now, instead of fading COVID and anticipated pent-up summer demand, the airlines are dealing with fading virus BUT going into a traditionally SLOWER travel season. Especially for leisure travel. I think we can safely predict that the return of business travel — a traditional driver of fall travel — will be significantly slower than the return of leisure travel.

    While I doubt many airline executives are COVID experts, I’m sure they can see the fading COVID being reflected in their bookings. It’s a safe bet that Labor Day weekend demand will be strong. Going forward, I’d bet we’ll see a lot more upward service revisions than downward revisions. And we’ll await the resumption of real international travel. I have to believe transatlantic will start to return sometime next month — COVID will be at equilibrium between the USA and Western Europe, so it’s an easy political decision to make — but we won’t know for sure until there’s an announcement.

    1. The “COVID scientists”, as you put it, weren’t anywhere close to dumb and failing to see the South’s spike. They simply gave too much credit to the folks and assuming most will properly follow health guidelines, instead of having the issue politicized to the point 3 states that were ultra far behind New York all managed to zoom past it.

      And there’s no point really to model the pandemic because the virus isn’t the thing killing the nation anyway.

      The pandemic ends, when the hubris does.

      1. Sorry Henry, but you are misinformed — which really isn’t your fault because our media and most of our politicians do nothing to inform us of the proven science. Like with all respiratory viruses, COVID only stops when it reaches burnout in a community (or possibly with a vaccine, but that’s not yet proven). All those “health guidelines” do absolutely nothing to stop the virus — although there is some modest scientific support to the idea that you can “flatten the curve” (reach the same number of infections over a longer period of time) if you deploy extreme social-distancing measures with enough lead time (NYC never had a chance). America is oddly fortunate now to have accidentally copied Sweden — we’ve had enough cases pretty much everywhere to have burnout, which is a form of herd immunity. This will become readily apparent in the next couple of weeks, as our COVID numbers keep coming down. Things will certainly get interesting, and no doubt many will be surprised (and some disappointed!) as we get a much needed dose of good news. It will certainly be good for the airline industry.

  8. Brett, when does PHL get international flying back? It seems like it’s been a long dry spell! Thanks!

  9. Brett,
    Please in further posts, if necessary, replace “snuck” with “sneaked” otherwise I always enjoy the Cranky Flier!!!

  10. Ah, Steamboat Springs. Went skiing there at least twice. One of my favorite places, both town wise and nice cruising slopes with a lot of snow.

    What was called, Big Mountain Montana (is it now called Whitefish?) was my favorite skiing and town. We went a few times in the late 90s and it was like going back to the 50s. 3,000+ acres of skiing, no crowds and a small town. We happened to be there during their winter festival and that was our day off skiing and were walking around. People were grilling burgers on a cold January day and selling them for $1. Wonderful place although challenging to get there at times.

    It is a bit toasty here in Scottsdale so cold thoughts are a good thing :)

  11. Brett –could we get emailed the comments to your posts even if we don’t comment ourselves? I don’t always have a comment to make about a given topic, but would really enjoy reading others’ comments. Thanks!

  12. I don’t believe Cheyenne is an EAS destination – you may want to double check that statement. Cheyenne has had a turbulent history with air service over the past few years and it has involved a lot of air service development grants and local money first to lure AA back (they were they before) and now UAL. The Tulip’s return to Cheyenne is nothing more than an opportunistic grab to take over where AA left off. It’s a less than 20 minute flight on an CRJ200 (about 90 miles direct).

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