After a summer plagued by flight delays and cancellations, U.S. travelers are looking ahead to the fall and hoping for smoother operations. As airlines are doing the same, they’re making the choice to cut thousands of flights into the fall and holiday season. Earlier this week American Airlines alone cut 31,000 flights from its November schedule, according to Cirium, an aviation data company.
“The recent cuts appear to impact routes between smaller cities to hubs and in some cases less flights between major hubs,” says Mike Arnot, an airline industry commentator and spokesman for Cirium. “Does the airline really need 15 flights a day when nine might do?”
American says the change in flight schedules is similar to how it was handling operations pre-COVID. “Preliminary schedules are published 331 days in advance and then adjustments are made closer in based on the schedule we intend to operate,” the airline said in an emailed statement. “We are now loading schedule adjustments approximately 100 days in advance, which is in line with how we adjusted our schedule in 2019 prior to the pandemic.” It’s typical for airlines to make schedule changes about 60 to 90 days ahead of time, according to Arnot.
Other major U.S. airlines have been trimming flights from their schedules. Earlier this summer United Airlines reduced the number of flights it operates out of Newark Liberty International airport, citing operational challenges at the hub, which has ranked among the worst airports in the world for delays and cancellations.
Delta, too, is scaling back operations. The airline received permission from the FAA to temporarily suspend some flights out of New York’s LaGuardia Airport and Regan National Airport in Washington, DC, due to operational issues in both cities, including large percentages of its workforce calling out sick due to COVID. “Delta stated that due to the unforeseen spike [in sick callouts], its workforce and flight operations are under extraordinary strain, leaving little margin for operational challenges caused by construction, ATC delays, and weather,” the FAA told Reuters.
Many airlines say they’re dealing with similar challenges, but it doesn’t seem to be deterring travelers from booking. “Despite these issues, the demand environment has never looked stronger, and there is continued confidence that consumer led demand will continue into the fall,” according to a memo from Cowen investment bank on airline capacity.
In fact, many U.S. travelers are planning to fly this fall, despite the shrinking airline schedules. According to a new TripAdvisor survey, “More than 40% of American travelers will travel more than seven hours and nearly half (49%) plan to travel by plane.” The situation seems to be echoing what happened in the chaos this summer: a deluge of travelers trying to book a shrinking number of flights.