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US airlines ramp up summer networks as passenger demand remains high

written by Hannah Dowling | March 29, 2021
Delta (Ryan Johns on Unsplash)

The major US airlines have announced the addition of new destinations to their network, as they prepare for a further ramp up in travel demand, while current demand stays consistently above 1 million passengers per day.

American Airlines has announced that by May it will fly at 80 per cent of its pre-COVID capacity, while adding 18 new routes to its network for the upcoming summer travel season, including new routes linking JFK to Latin America and the Caribbean.

American vice president of customer experience Julie Rath told ABC news that the airline is “optimistic for the summer of 2021”.

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“We’re optimistic that we’ll continue to see travel and especially leisure travel as we’ve been seeing recently, continue to increase,” she added.

Among American’s new routes is also 10 new, returning and seasonal routes from Austin, Texas.

“These routes not only provide opportunities for companies to get back to business and for leisure travelers to enjoy the excitement of Austin, but also connect Central Texans with new leisure destinations they desire,” Brian Znotins, American’s vice president of network planning said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Chicago-based United Airlines has said it intends to fly at 52 per cent of its pre-COVID schedule over the summer season, and upped its network by 26 new non-stop routes.

The new routes will largely link Midwest cities such as Cleveland, Cincinnati and Milwaukee with coastal holiday destinations in South Carolina, Florida and Maine.

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“In the past few weeks, we have seen the strongest flight bookings since the start of the pandemic,” Ankit Gupta, vice president of United’s domestic network planning and scheduling, said.

“As we rebuild our schedule to meet that demand, adding in seasonal point-to-point flying is just one of the ways we are finding opportunities to add new and exciting service.”

Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines announced it will introduce nine new routes, and bolster the number of flights added on more than 20 leisure destinations for the summer.

New destinations include Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota and Nevada, while bolstered schedules pertain to routes to Hilton Head, Myrtle Beach, and the Caribbean.

The carrier said its decision to do so comes amid “renewed optimism and growing customer confidence in upcoming travel.”

According to the Transportation Security Administration, over 1 million passengers have passed through airport checkpoints per day since 11 March 2021, the highest figures seen since March 2020 when initial ‘stay at home’ measures were introduced.

In fact, 21 March 2021 saw the highest figure recorded since 14 March 2020, with 1.54 million passengers passing through.

Friday’s figure, 26 March, came in close, at 1.35 million passengers.

Despite growing consumer confidence in flying, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is yet to change its advice on non-essential travel.

CDC director Dr Rochelle Walensky expressed her concern over the growing traveller figures coming from the TSA, and again warned Americans not to “relax” despite lowering COVID figures.

The CDC recently revealed its guidelines for fully-vaccinated Americans, which said fully vaccinated people should feel free to meet other fully-vaccinated people or low-risk non-vaccinated people without face masks or social distancing.

However, the agency did extend its advice against all non-essential travel to fully-vaccinated people.

At the time, Dr Walensky said, “Every time there’s a surge in travel, we have a surge in cases in this country.”

In light of the CDC’s as-yet unwavering stance on travel guidance, more than two dozen airlines and travel companies have joined forces to urge the Biden Administration to announce its intentions on reopening travel by 1 May 2021.

In a letter signed by all those involved, the coalition called for the plan to include guidance that vaccinated adults can travel as well as the development of uniform federal principles for COVID-19 health credentials better known as “vaccine passports”.

“If nothing is done to lift international travel bans and bring back demand, the US Travel Association estimates that a total of a 1.1 million American jobs will not be restored and $262 billion in export spending will be lost by the end of 2021,” the letter said.

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