A December Tidal Wave of Changes

Schedule Changes

There was a tsunami this week in Airlineville. The Eagle, Pualani, Ms Blue, the Taxi, and the Globe all flooded the market with December changes as they prepare for the holidays. As if that wasn’t enough, the Heart took a shot at January and February too.

This was a brute force kind of week with less nuance, but everyone had something to say… except for the Animal which did virtually nothing. Thanks to the Animal for being a beacon of calm in a turbulent sea.

All this and more this week as I snuggle up with Cirium. Like sands through the hourglass, so are the skeds of air lines.

Alaska Fails In One of Its New Markets

Alaska has done a lot of north-south adds this year, and if there’s one that I figured would fail, it was San Diego to Santa Barbara. I suppose we can’t quite call this is a total failure yet, but Alaska has pulled out through the winter, currently expecting to resume on March 18. I bet that won’t happen.

Other than that, it was a pretty quiet week for the Eskimo. It is beefing up a few warm weather markets in the winter like LAX to Puerto Vallarta and Phoenix to Seattle. But some growth is going through the end of schedule. Palm Springs to Seattle gets an extra daily flight, even during the summer. And the now hotly-contested market of LAX to San Jose (CR) goes daily. Everyone wants to knock down JetBlue, apparently.

Allegiant Cuts A Little

Allegiant may be doing well these days, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room to cut a bit. The biggest pulldowns are along the northern border. Since travelers can’t get across from Canada, demand is down. Other than that, there are some last minute cuts in short-haul from Vegas along with some Montana/Dakotas flying. In December and January there was even a little growth, and it was mostly focused on Punta Gorda. But it really was minor.

American Sets December, Puts Big Metal Down South

American was busy this week, first setting its December schedule. Seats will be down 43.1 percent as of now. That’s in line with Southwest and a bit less than United. Delta is cutting a lot less, but it continues to block middle seats in December, so that’s not an accurate metric at all.

Beyond that, American gets the award for some of the weirdest routes. It will be adding Key West to both Orlando and Tampa this winter. Why? I, uh, well, I guess somebody might fly it. It seems like a really strange thing, but maybe there is just aircraft downtime so they might as well try.

Lastly, American has started to figure out where to put widebodies this winter. Latin America is getting some of that metal with 787s to unlikely places like San Pedro Sula and Port-au-Prince. You’ll find a 777 in Bogota and San Juan too. There’s more than that, but you get the idea.

Delta Cuts December Again, Tweaks Elsewhere

Delta set December last week, but it decided to make more cuts this week as it carved out off-peak days. Overall, Delta has now cut seats in December by 32 percent year over year instead of 28.8 last week. That, however, counts all those blocked middles as seats, so the real cut is significantly higher.

In other news, Delta is rolling out Salt Lake to Miami which is sensible if it really is supposed to provide feed to LATAM. It will, however, cut out Salt Lake to Cleveland and Columbus along with the short-lived Indianapolis to Memphis route.

Delta has delayed the restart of Tokyo/Haneda to both LAX and Honolulu as well as JFK to Sao Paulo. Meanwhile, JFK to both Dublin and Frankfurt get the axe through the winter. There were also a few notable tweaks next summer when LAX to Maui gets cut down while Salt Lake to Maui and Seattle to Honolulu grow.

Hawaiian Sets December Properly

Last week, Hawaiian took a first stab at December, but it was clearly incomplete. This week, it has made proper cuts. The month will see seats down 49.2 percent, more than any other airline. It’s a tale of two seasons, however, with the back half of the month down significantly less than the front half.

Hawaiian is seeing faint signs of life internationally, increasing Tokyo/Narita flights from one to two weekly, and it is bringing back Incheon with a weekly flight as well. As the airline previously announced, Honolulu to Boston, JFK, and Long Beach all return to the schedule in December leaving no previous mainland destination unserved. That along with the return of some Maui to mainland flying returning means that it’s steady but cautious growth for the airline.

Another Late November Cut for JetBlue + December’s First Cut

I remain unable to figure out JetBlue. Yet again, the airline made a very late — if modest — cut for November flying. Seats were down another 2 percent, and it was spread throughout the month. Some of the notable pulldowns are on transcon. LA loses 13 flights each way to Boston for the month while it loses 8 to both JFK and Newark. It wasn’t all long-haul, but that’s as close to a trend as I can find. It just felt like trimming around the edges.

In December, JetBlue now expects seats to be down 41 percent for the month. We’ll see if that holds, but I’d bet it won’t. I imagine we’ll see more late cuts as the month draws closer.

Southwest Gets a Jump on 2021

While others focus on December, Southwest is getting a jump on its January/February schedules. Those seats have now been pulled down 37.7 percent and 38.8 percent respectively year-over-year. As I talked about last Thursday, Chicago/O’Hare and Colorado Springs schedules were loaded, but I don’t need to talk about that again. And Southwest continues to look for little tactical tweaks where it can make some more money.

Spirit’s First Look at December

This was Spirit’s first whack at December as well, and seats are now shown down 19.4 percent. Spirit had targeted capacity to be down 20 percent, so it’s already in the neighborhood, but there will undoubtedly be more moves to come.

United’s December Hit

United jumped into the game as well with December seats now down 46.2 percent. That’s a big cut for the airline, but it’s no surprise since it has tended to be at the lower end thanks to its large international presence.

The airline looked to add a couple flights here and there to fill in around Thanksgiving. It also gutted Italy, shuttering Rome and Milan through the winter. It’s cutting Amsterdam – Chicago during that time too. Guam to Tokyo goes all narrowbody, but it will still have 3 daily flights. And Mammoth Lakes goes back to being a winter-only destination.


Whew. That’s mercifully all for this week. Stay tuned for what we can only hope is a calmer episode next week on Skeds of Air Lines.

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20 comments on “A December Tidal Wave of Changes

  1. This was completely predictable. Once Covid really started spreading with the most recent wave & the associated economic impact was being felt, many people were focusing more on being safe & their employment rather than some exotic vacation spot.

    1. Sean
      There are a growing number of people that are suffering from quarantine fatigue and want to travel. States that can figure out how to allow travelers in/out and restart tourism will benefit. Various media interviewed Europeans as different countries imposed lockdowns over the past few days.

      Airlines need to figure out how to get costs out to operate at least into spring on a limited domestic leisure component; hopefully by then vaccines will be circulating in high enough numbers to start cutting case and death counts even if portions of the population don’t take them and other attempts to slow the disease don’t work.

      as for your comment below, CF’s graphs from early posts showed how capacity cuts were being spread across the industry. It looks like US to US (domestic capacity) is down about 40% for all airlines with the ULCCs closer to down 15-20%, Delta down about 30% and going down to United and B6 at the opposite end.
      Seat caps for Southwest (as long as they last) and at Delta help to revenue manage flights and create confidnce on larger aircraft, esp. for DL which will be shifting more and more widebodies into the domestic system. AA is doing that as well but will be carrying alot of empty seats around on non-peak days while United is doing the best job of using widebodies for cargo only flights. B6 is a victim of its NE-skewed market while AS is benefitting from a more tailored approach to managing covid on the west coast.

      Hopefully we’ll get some good news about vaccines before the end of the year which could build confidence for Easter 2021 traffic and beyond.

      1. Tim,

        Not sure if you heard, but WN announced a week or two ago that they will no longer be capping seats on flights, effective December 1st. WN oiffered cash (not airline credit) refunds for those with flights already booked after December 1 who no longer wished to travel, but I personally doubt many travelers are going to take them up on that offer, unless things get MUCH worse on the COVID side, or unless other carriers seriously undercut WN’s fares.

        1. Kilroy,
          I am aware that WN is ending its seat caps. Perhaps another way of saying what I said above is “Seat caps for Southwest (until they end) and at Delta…
          As was discussed previously, WN needs all of its seats in order to gain a competitive advantage in all of the new markets it is adding. Their yield was down the most of the big 4 in the 3rd quarter so they are more interested in putting seats in the market to gain share than to maximize yield.

      2. “States that can figure out how to allow travelers in/out and restart tourism will benefit.“

        But if not done carefully I’m not sure it will last, as travelers bring COVID with them. If COVID goes up too much, places will have to shut down again, even though local leaders are reluctant to because of the impact to their local economies.

        As an example, I’m somewhat pessimistic about Hawaii. It appears that airlines aren’t required to confirm that passengers attempting to travel under the quarantine waiver actually have a negative result. There was a report last week of someone boarding in Chicago with a pending result and got a positive result back during the flight. So they have to quarantine, and it also means potential exposure for everyone else on board. (Yeah, I did see Cranky’s recent post about the DoD study…)

      3. ” There are a growing number of people that are suffering from quarantine fatigue and want to travel. States that can figure out how to allow travelers in/out and restart tourism will benefit.”

        Tim,

        What you posted doesn’t change the reality of what’s been occurring with this pandemic no matter how many times you bring it up. As an analyst you of all people should be able to recognize that as I know you have the smarts to do so.

        Curious – in what area are you an analyst?

        1. Sean,
          I don’t want to get into the pandemic but I can follow the news and understand the implications for the airline industry.

          There has not been any successful strategy to really contain the pandemic in the west. Europe locked down hard in the spring and is now seeing case and death counts per capita growing faster than the US – and the totals aren’t that much different. E. Asia locked down hard and is still locked down at enormous costs to international air travel which is a large part of Asia’s economy.

          I can’t predict what will happen in the US but I will say that there is a subset of Americans that are determined to travel and no US state or the federal government has succeeded at proposing at cutting out American’s mobility other than Hawaii and Alaska (to varying degrees) and they have more of an ability to do that than the 48 states. People who want to travel are doing so; those that do not are not.

          Again, I do not want to argue about the pandemic. I do say that US airlines have a domestic market and Latin America and the Caribbean are willing to allow people to travel and that is not likely to change until at least Jan 20.

          I am interested in the pandemic because, as Jon Ostrower says, There’s always an aviation angle.™

    1. Same here. It’s interesting to watch the progression of changes & see how each carrier exicutes each move on the fly.

  2. Wondering whether those Key West flights line up nicely with international flights on BA/IB into Tampa and Orlando? In normal times it’s often in travel sections of newspapers here in the UK as a suggested destination.

    1. Doesnt look like it – MCO arrives too late to make the BA flight at least.

      I think its just an a/c or crew placement issue – even the times are horrible for local traffic to EYW (arrivals early in the day, way before check-in times) and departures after happy hour from EYW (again, not very tourist/local friendly)…..Folks at Silver must be annoyed regardless

  3. I still find it very odd that some airlines haven’t assessed their hub structure to further reduce costs. I am specifically referring to closing some hubs. Seems like rents associated with the gate space, counter space, etc. etc. would add up. All of the year over year tweaks to schedules address current demand, but the number of hubs have not been reduced accordingly. I understand it is MUCH easier to adjust schedules as opposed to closing hubs. However, the hit on the industry is so enormous, and recovery so prolonged that I would have expected something by now.

    1. Well, I think AA is significantly reducing scale in NYC and LAX (and BOS?) with the AS and B6 partnerships, so maybe that would qualify? What other hubs are you thinking? I don’t see much redundancy left. Maybe AA PHX vs. DFW a bit, but PHX has its role and is actually a major sunbelt destination during covid. MSP and DTW are a bit redundant for DL, but I don’t see either going away. In a magic-wand world AA might give up ORD and take over one of those (probably MSP since I’m guessing DTW is more valuable to DL), but there’s no realistic scenario where that happens, and AA would have a giant midwestern hole if they gave up ORD unilaterally. LAX and IAD are UA’s two weakest, but I don’t see them giving up either – they may not have top market share at LAX but have a good upper-end global flier niche plus the northern Virginia suburbs are booming around IAD. DL’s focus cities or secondary hubs (BOS, SEA, AUS, RDU, CVG, BNA, SJC) are a different matter and it will be interesting to watch how their service evolves. I don’t expect Delta to officially give up on any of them, but their service may be *very* slow coming back.

      1. I was thinking coastal hubs that are redundant in an airlines network AND are not fortress hubs. So think LAX/NYC for AA, BOS for DL (maybe not a true hub but very large focus city). While AA has drawn down service in LAX/NYC, they still are holding on to a lot of space which costs money, so I’m surprised they haven’t given back some of it. Maybe they are banking on a quick industry turnaround, but I’m not convinced business travel will be back in 2021.

        1. Of all carriers, I think AA is most likely going to give up spaces. I mean it has already essentially done that in NYC. It’s giving up slots to JetBlue in both JFK and LGA. It doesn’t need all that space in T-8 so all the OW carriers and probably AS are moving in there. At LGA, it’s already talking about JetBlue operating out of its gates. It’s kind of done that at LAX also. It was looking to take over all of T4 and T5 and move out of Eagles nest. Well, now we know JetBlue is taking over a good chunk of T-5, so AA is clearly not able to provide the investment LAWA needs to take over T5. If it continues to shrink at LAX, JetBlue will just take over more of T-5. And at SFO, it’s down to 6 preferential gates. Although at this point, SFO is no longer a gate constrained airport.

          Watch what happens in DCA. Really depends on when the slot waiver ends. DC demand is down almost as much as NYC. AA is running a small fraction of their pre-COVID flights. They basically have 2 choices when slot waiver ends. Sell/lease some of its slots and/or move all the connection stuff from PHL over. In which case, it will be killing its PHL hub.

          I think DL should be fine. They have the resources to keep all their assets.

          UA at this point will also have to work hard to keep its assets. Aside from gates at EWR and LAX, I’m not sure how they end up utilizing their LGA/DCA slots with business traffic down this much.

          1. “UA at this point will also have to work hard to keep its assets. Aside from gates at EWR and LAX, I’m not sure how they end up utilizing their LGA/DCA slots with business traffic down this much.”

            They already announced a bunch of LGA to Florida routes they’re running this winter, and I’m sure they could do the same with DCA. They could also replace frequent hub routes (ORD, IAH) with RJs to keep the frequency up and the capacity down. They don’t have that much service out of either, so I’d think it’s manageable. AA has a much bigger problem at LGA and DCA.

        2. Eric,
          fyi, even without most of its international flights, Delta’s ASM reduction in Boston for November is the least of the large jet US airlines. B6 and DL are down similar number of seats (down about 58%) but DL’s ASM reduction is less indicating they cut out short-haul flying more than longer flights. WN and AS both are down 70% which is esp. noteworthy considering that DL like WN is blocking seats through November.
          As you might have seen, Mass. just announced an aggressive state at home order that will likely slow the recovery in NE.

          As FC notes, AA is the only carrier that so far is walking away from its pre-covid strategies. There will be no hub swapping. If airlines can’t make what they have work before traffic returns in greater measure, those hubs will just fail.

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