December Comes Into Focus and the Race for Leisure Travel Continues

Schedule Changes

It seems like only yesterday that the residents of Airlineville were making Thanksgiving plans, but now Christmas is on their minds. The Eskimo, the Widget, and Pualani all began making their lists and checking them twice.

Some, however, are still stuck on Turkey Day. Ms Blue made more cuts while the Globe went in the opposite direction.

Meanwhile, the Widget and the Eagle plan for a cold, long-haul winter. When it comes to sun, however, everybody is happily pointing south. The Heart continues to push ahead. Lastly, the Eagle has made plans for his good friend MAX.

All this and more on this week’s episode. Like sands through the hourglass, so are the skeds of air lines.

Alaska Builds December

Alaska has put its first cut at December out there for the world to see. Seats are down 36.4 percent for the month (excluding middle seat blocking), only slightly better than November’s 37.2 percent decline. Several winter routes kick in that month, including the LA – Florida flying that was announced previously, so that means other routes will see cuts.

Alaska also appears to be digging in against JetBlue. It’s starting up less-than-daily service this winter from SFO to Fort Lauderdale, and it’s adding frequency from San Diego to Fort Lauderdale.

American Returns the MAX a Little, Cuts Winter Long-Haul

This was already reported, but American is planning to return the 737 MAX to service on December 29. Don’t worry, it’s only on one roundtrip from LaGuardia to Miami for 7 days. Then it disappears again; the rest of the MAX schedule has been removed. Presumably American is making its plans on that front now.

In the land of long-haul, things are getting cut this winter.

  • Dallas/Fort Worth – Madrid and Paris are gone December 2 through January 4. Presumably things were booking up well, but it wasn’t bad enough for American to kill them the entire winter yet. We’ll see what January schedules bring.
  • Dallas/Fort Worth – Hong Kong, Miami – Manaus, New York/JFK – Sao Paulo, and New York/JFK – Rio de Janeiro restarts have been pushed back again from December 17 to January 5.

Delta Does December, Grows Leisure Beyond

Delta rolled out its December schedule this week as well. Seats are down 28.8 percent versus 35.9 percent in November. That’s a pretty hefty schedule at this point. It also made several tweaks to winter and summer schedules as it focuses on leisure destinations.

  • Atlanta/Los Angeles – Cabo San Lucas get one extra daily flight each until early April
  • Atlanta – Venice and Minneapolis – Keflavik new 4x weekly May 27 – September 5
  • Boston – Rome new 1x daily May 27 – September 5
  • Boston – London CANCELED until April 1
  • Cincinnati/Raleigh-Durham – Cancun 1x daily extended beyond holiday season through end of schedule
  • Minneapolis – Liberia/St Thomas increases from 1x weekly to 4x weekly December – March
  • New York/JFK – Madrid CANCELED until March 3
  • New York/JFK – Rome cut from 4x to 3x weekly until April 1
  • New York/JFK – Tel Aviv cut from 2x to 1x daily December 12 – March 31
  • New York/LaGuardia – Key West new 1x daily December 18 – March 28
  • Seattle – Palm Springs (2x daily) and Tucson (1x daily) December 18 – March 28

Hawaiian Does a Partial December

Hawaiian did a first pass at December, but it’s very incomplete. International was not cut at all yet, so that must be coming later. But even domestic doesn’t include last week’s announcement that Boston, JFK, and Long Beach flights are coming back. It does include several Kahului (Maui) flights to the mainland, but this will have to wait for another week, at least, to get a full picture.

JetBlue Cuts Again, This Time November

Last week, JetBlue cut late October flying. This week, it’s November’s turn. another 10 percent of seats in November have been pulled from the schedule, and it’s throughout the month across many routes. I can’t quite figure out why JetBlue is cutting so late in the game.

Southwest Ramps Up December

First, Southwest said it would stop limiting capacity to keep middle seats empty from December 1. Now it’s boosting December another 2.6 percent on top of that. The end result is a flood of new seats in the market, and Southwest seems to be feeling confident that it’s going to fill them.

United Extends Florida, Adds Thanksgiving

This week, United extended its Florida point-to-point flying from non-hubs in the Midwest and Northeast US all the way through early April. Every route is sticking around, though some at greater frequencies than others. United appears pretty happy with the results so far, even though none of these have actually flown yet.

Around Thanksgiving, the airline is bulking up a bit. Specifically, Chicago/O’Hare and Washington/Dulles are getting extra bank flying on peak days. It’s maybe a good sign that bookings are coming in better than expected.

That’s it for this week’s episode. Stay tuned next week for more Skeds of Air Lines.

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23 comments on “December Comes Into Focus and the Race for Leisure Travel Continues

  1. ” It’s maybe a good sign that bookings are coming in better than expected.”

    A good sign for United’s revenues around Thanksgiving, and a bad sign that a bunch of people are still keeping their Thanksgiving plans, and will accelerate the virus even more?

    1. Exactly what Fauci said not to do, but I await the wisdom of Tim Dunn who appears to have the all knowing answer on these matters.

      1. You’ll be disappointed that I am not going to continue that discussion here.
        to recap, I ONLY said that any expert – Fauci or not – that wants to speak about covid risk should be aware of the most recent study that CF cited which shows there is a very low risk of covid transmission on commercial aircraft.
        I also noted that covid transmission, according to multiple sources at both the federal and state level, are being driven by medium to large gatherings w/ no regard for CDC guidance re: social distancing, mask usage or health and risk of each participant.

        And, since most of the travel is leisure oriented and to sun destinations, people are not likely going to celebrate Thanksgiving at their family’s house in the Caribbean.

        1. Tim,

          When I said I was waiting for your words of wisdom, I actually was waiting for your words of wisdom & having a little fun in the process. So no need to snipe… OK?.

      2. Yes, unfortunately it does seem that this blog now belongs to Mr. Dunn, not The Cranky Flier. This is a classic case of a thriving social media site being overrun by a bitter ex-industry employee latching onto an existing platform. As the contributor “FC” has noted, Mr. Dunn extrapolates trivial industry factoids into faulty industry analysis. Or just plain denial of facts he does not care for. For example, last week he claimed Delta beat Wall Street expectations on Earnings Per Share in the latest quarter, when in fact they underperformed by a double-digit percentage. Contrast that with Southwest’s third quarter performance in which it exceeded Wall Street expectations for both revenue and a double-digit beat on EPS and you can quickly see which way both companies are performing and, quite possibly, the opposite directions both companies are heading. At any rate, the airlines’ scheduling machinations deserve scrutiny, whether one is a concerned ticket-holder, an industry employee, or an analyst/investor.

        1. You do realize that Sean brought my name into the conversation? You replied discussing me, and dragging in a bunch of issues that are not related to today’s topic.
          I have always acknowledged that CF has the right to choose who participates in this blog and the topics they discuss.
          Perhaps the best way he could refocus on topics and not other users is to delete Sean’s comment and everything that follows it.

          1. The best way to make sure this comment section continues to be of interest is for everyone to think twice before they comment. Just because someone’s name is mentioned doesn’t mean it requires a response every time. At the same time, there is no reason to snipe at others in the comment section by calling them out. Everyone should think this through carefully, or I will be forced to take more drastic action.

  2. How’s JetBlue treating cancelled customers? I’m going to Cancun the week of ThxGiving on the brand-new RDU-CUN route. (It starts the day before I leave.) I’d hate to be paying extortion holiday-week last-minute fares to somebody else if JetBlue cuts me off entirely. (If they route me through NYC or something, that’d suck, but I could live with it.)

    1. SirWired – I’m sure if they canceled you, they’d be able to route you through another gateway, possibly even Florida. But let’s just hope that that doesn’t happen. I’d imagine if that flight is ever going to do well, the week of Thanksgiving would be a good one.

    1. CF’s blog addresses the specifics of what airlines are scheduling but his Monday morning posts for many weeks point to a very limited base of domestic leisure passengers, very limited international traffic, and very few business travelers on domestic or international networks – and that will likely be the case for months.
      CF doesn’t largely delve into airline financial analysis but it is clear that the number of carriers worldwide and their current size is not sustainable unless traffic returns – which is likely going to come only from a long-term reduction in the number of covid cases which is what is depressing the movement of people worldwide. Other analysts have weighed in on how long each airline can last in the current environment but no airline can survive in the current demand/supply environment; the only difference is timing and who falls first.

    2. Eric – I don’t think the industry has ever relied on leisure travel to this extent to pay the bills. Maybe in 1914 when the St Petersburg-Tampa airboat line started!

      1. CF I have a question related to this topic & would like your thoughts. I mentioned on another transportation related blog that if the airlines had to become totally dependent on leisure travelers, they couldn’t maintain their massive size & would need to shrink to a level where they could be profitable. therefore fares would go up & the number of options would drop. Also as it is, the leisure traveler is far more price sensitive & maybe less apt to fly if that be the case.

        What are your thoughts – Thanks.

        1. SEAN – Well the reality is that pricing is driven by demand. If demand is too late at a price that works, then they have to start cutting capacity until there’s an equilibrium. That would certainly cut off the lower end of demand, but airlines like Allegiant can fill that void fairly well for pure leisure options. But until business returns, it’s going to be a challenge for traditional network carriers.

          1. CF,
            JP Morgan said that they expect Delta and United to be able to return to profitability faster than the industry as a whole including leisure carriers.
            Jamie Baker (of JPM) trimmed his price targets on Alaska and Southwest on Monday, taking Alaska to $59 from $64 and Southwest to $41 from $43. He rates Southwest as Underweight and Alaska as Overweight, and calls Delta one of his top picks with a $50 target. He also has an Overweight on United.
            Barron’s has the story.

      2. Serious question… Were the Pan-Am flying boats business focused? I always had the impression that those were much more leisure focused, hence the focus on exotic destinations, but maybe not…. Then again, at the prices that those tickets ran, you had to be very, very rich to fly on those routes, and the lines between “rich guy on business trip” and “rich guy taking family on vacation while he has a few meetings or business trip” may have been blurred sometimes.

        1. CF might want to do an article detailing the development of leisure products but a leisure vs. business difference didn’t really develop until discounters and deep discounters entered the market. Fares were generally offered for years by class of service.
          The beauty of deregulation is that literally billions of people around the world have been able to fly on leisure trips because airlines have figured out how to segment fares between leisure and business customers and stimulate extra demand while protecting the higher fares that business passengers would be willing to pay.

          The question right now is how much business demand comes back – and that is a big unknown but it will have a huge influence on airline costs and how much capacity is sustainable. A year plus with minimal global business travel will dramatically thin the herd of airlines.

          Also, Pan Am’s network was generally more southerly in nature (ie Asia via Hawaii) because it used flying boats than airlines that made stops along the Great Circle route using standard airplanes.

          1. The question right now is how much business demand comes back – and that is a big unknown but it will have a huge influence on airline costs and how much capacity is sustainable. A year plus with minimal global business travel will “dramatically thin the herd of airlines.”

            We’re more than half way to that point & we’ll see where things stand next spring. By then the gear will have met the runway & the council would decide witch carriers will be voted out of the skies.

        2. Kilroy – Good question. I think the flying boats were more about Juan Trippe wanting to conquer the world. No question you’re right — any rich person would do. But it was probably a mix of business and pleasure. I can’t say I know for sure.

          1. Thanks, Cranky. I’ve read a couple of books about a Pan Am flying boat that was in the middle of a trip from San Francisco to the western Pacific when Pearl Harbor was attacked. The plane was forced to fly from San Francisco to New York “the long way round”, and it’s a fascinating story.

            I agree that if you ever run out of ideas for posts, a few posts (or guest posts) on parts of the history of commercial aviation (or even just fascinating stories or anecdotes) could be interesting.

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