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The US aviation industry is on its way back. As summer rapidly approaches, airlines are bringing their schedules back, and passengers are coming back onboard jets. As passenger growth steadily improves, airlines show they are willing to fight for each passenger with bumped-up schedules. While overall capacity remains lower than 2019-levels, flights are starting to come back online.
US airlines are increasing their schedules ahead of the summer. Photo: Getty Images
The US passenger recovery
The US industry has seen a steady recovery in the number of passengers boarding an aircraft each week. A graph of the data from March 1st through May 22nd – the last available date with data at the time of writing – is below:
March 1st through May 22nd passenger data. Data: TSA
Graph: Simple Flying
What is very encouraging, even if peak passenger days are slowly increasing in daily numbers, is that the lowest travel days are seeing significantly improved numbers from March and even April. For example, in the last couple of weeks, Tuesdays and Wednesdays – typically the lowest travel dates – are seeing over 1.3 million, and some days over 1.4 million passengers board an aircraft.
Alaska Airlines has significantly tracked upwards in terms of its weekly flight numbers. Since late February, the airline has consistently tracked ahead in the number of daily flights it is running:
Alaska Airlines’ seven-day average flight numbers. Graph: RadarBox.com
Alaska Airlines operated around 110-or-so flights per day on average in 2019, according to the data. In the last few days, Alaska has been tracking at around 140 flights per day on average.
Alaska Airlines is heavily focused around the West Coast. Photo: Getty Images
Alaska Airlines has a significant presence on the West Coast. With California on track to open fully in a few weeks, Alaska is laying on flights to the states. Moreover, the airline is also adding new routes, using its spare aircraft to connect new cities.
One of the largest airlines in the world, American Airlines has aggressively grown its schedule from March-onwards.
American Airlines’ seven-day average flight numbers. Graph: RadarBox.com
On average, American Airlines is flying over 600 flights per day. Traditionally, based on 2019 levels, American was flying around 450-500 flights per day, on average.
American Airlines is also expecting to run over 150 new routes this summer. In addition, it is also bringing back frequencies where demand warrants. As June and July roll around, expect the airline to continue an upward trend but start to plateau.
American is concentrating its growth around leisure destinations. Photo: Getty Images.
Delta Air Lines
Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines is tracking closely with American Airlines on its seven-day average of flights. However, unlike American Airlines, Delta has started to plateau its weekly average.
Delta Air Lines seven-day average of flights. Photo: RadarBox.com
Delta flew around 450 flights on average per day in 2019. Unlike American Airlines, Delta has chosen to stick with a more gradual ramp-up.
Much of Delta’s capacity will be focused around its core hubs this summer. However, the airline is also building out its newer hubs, such as Boston and Seattle, while also holding onto its position in New York. The growth from most cities is focused on leisure destinations.
Coastal capacity is coming back on Delta. Photo: Getty Images
A carrier focused on bringing passengers to and from Hawaii, home state carrier Hawaiian Airlines is one of the smallest airlines in the US.
Hawaiian Airlines’ seven-day average of flights. Photo: RadarBox.com
On average, Hawaiian is flying around 20-25 flights per day. This fits within the airline’s route network, focused heavily on peak day flights to the mainland.
There is a stark gap between 2021 and 2019 flying. Much of that can be attributed to international travel, Neighbor Island travel, and limited frequencies on some of its longest routes to the mainland United States. When those sectors come back in earnest, Hawaiian will start to bring its flights back up.
Hawaiian Airlines is coming back with its mainland routes. Photo: Vincenzo Pace
There is expected to be a difference between 2021 and 2019 flight numbers this summer, with 2021 tracking lower than 2019 for now.
Heavily focused around New York and Boston, JetBlue spent some time diversifying its route network during the crisis. Florida and California have seen some stronger rebounds, but the airline has recently started to bring back a larger number of flights.
JetBlue’s seven-day average of flights. Photo: RadarBox.com
Currently, the airline is focused on around 115-or-so daily flights on average. This is down from the 150 daily flight average from 2019.
The good news for JetBlue travelers is that the airline has been added a significant number of new flights, adding over 20-or-so per day in the last couple of weeks.
JetBlue passengers are seeing more flight options in several markets. Photo: Getty Images
As the summer comes, JetBlue will likely see another step-change in flights as New Yorkers, in particular, take their summer vacations. Come August, one small but important increase in flights will be the airline’s operations to London.
One of the largest low-cost airlines globally, Southwest Airlines has been bringing back its daily flights, but it is still cautious and responsive to the environment.
Southwest Airlines’ seven-day average of flights. Photo: RadarBox.com
Southwest is still flying a respectable roughly 425 daily flights, on average. This is down from the roughly 500 daily flights it ran, on average, in 2019.
Daily flights should start to track more upwards as June and July roll around. June will see capacity down in the single digits, and that trend should continue through the remainder of the summer.
Southwest is also planning to bump up its Hawaii services this summer. Photo: Getty Images.
Ultra-low-cost carrier Spirit Airlines is planning a big summer. The airline is returning to its growth trajectory. Spirit is tracking closely to its 2019 daily flight numbers in recent weeks.
Spirit Airlines’ seven-day average of flights. Photo: RadarBox.com
Spirit is operating just under 100 flights per day, and it will probably cross that threshold this summer, given that it is returning to a growth model.
Spirit Airlines is coming to new cities this summer. Photo: Getty Images.
Heavy on international exposure, even United Airlines is significantly upping its daily flight schedules. The airline is now bringing back its flight numbers and is running ahead of its 2019 daily flight numbers.
United Airlines’ seven-day average of flights. Photo: RadarBox.com
United is roughly flying around 370 flights per day, on average. While this is less than its peers at American and Delta, it is still a respectable number of daily operations. The airline has centered much of its operations around its major hubs in Chicago, Denver, and Houston. However, more growth this summer is planned, including in Newark and Washington D.C.
United Airlines is growing its domestic schedules this summer. Photo: Getty Images
Daily flights are not the same as capacity
While some airlines are operating more daily flights in 2021 than in 2019, that is not the same as capacity. Many smaller jets are flying more frequently and are operating routes formerly flown mostly by larger aircraft.
There has also been a structural shift in the US away from large widebody fleets. Delta and American have retired large numbers of widebody jets. United and Southwest have made other fleet-related cuts. And then there was Alaska Airlines, which retired all of its Airbus A319s and made huge cuts to its Airbus A320 fleet.
At the end of the day, overall capacity is still down, and the industry is not back to profitability as a whole.
Are you planning any summer travel? Let us know in the comments!
This article first appeared on simpleflying.com
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