United plans to add 25,000 flights in August as customers 'are slowly returning'

Key Points
  • United's 25,000 additional flights still bring its August 2020 schedule to just 40% of flights in 2019.
  • United and other carriers are grappling with how to cater to an uptick in demand with the impact of Covid-19.
  • The airline is also increasing international flights, with destinations including Lima, Peru, Shanghai and Frankfurt, Germany.
A United Airlines Boeing 737 passenger jet takes off at San Antonio International Airport in Texas.
Robert Alexander

United Airlines is planning to add about 25,000 flights in August compared with this month, hoping to capitalize on an uptick in air travel demand, particularly to leisure destinations ranging from Bozeman, Montana, to Bangor, Maine.

The airline said it wants to stay nimble to cater to the ebbs and flows of demand as spikes in coronavirus cases shift around the U.S. and that demand has started to level off.

"The demand did flatten out over the past week or so," Ankit Gupta, United's vice president of domestic network planning said on a media call Wednesday.

With the increase in flights next month, United will still be flying about half of its August 2019 domestic capacity and a quarter of the international service it operated last year. In comparison, this month it plans to fly about 30% of its domestic service as the same month last year, and just 16% of international service, the airline said. Among the international service United plans to add in August are flights to Lima, Peru, Shanghai and Frankfurt, Germany.

The virus, and the measures taken to try to stop it from spreading, have shuttered key tourist attractions and prompted stay-at-home orders, devastating air travel. The number of people passing through U.S. airport security checkpoints in June was less than one-fifth last year's levels, according to federal data.

While the European Union continues to bar Americans from travel amid the pandemic and vice versa, the new United schedule is based on current demand trends, said Patrick Quayle, the airline's vice president of international network and alliances. Much of the recent demand has been one-way tickets, indicating customers repatriating, he said.

Delta Air Lines, for its part, is delaying until next month the start of flights from New York's John. F. Kennedy International Airport to Lisbon, Portugal, and to Athens, Greece, that were scheduled for July. It's also delaying Atlanta to Lagos, Nigeria and JFK to Accra, Ghana.

American Airlines said Wednesday that it expects a prolonged slump in demand for travel abroad. The Fort Worth, Texas-based carrier is planning for its international long-haul capacity next summer to be 25% lower than the same period of 2019 and that it will eliminate 19 international routes.

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