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Airlines Split on Handling 2020 Holiday Travel, While FAA Issues Health Guidance

Airlines Split on Handling 2020 Holiday Travel, While FAA Issues Health Guidance
Joe Cortez

The major American airlines are taking a very split decision on how to approach the 2020 holiday season. While United and JetBlue are increasing capacity anticipating larger crowds, Southwest is warning that their total fourth quarter capacity will decrease. Meanwhile, the FAA is only offering flyers “guidance” on staying healthy while traveling.

Traditionally, the end of the year is a major time for airlines, as families travel from near and far to get together once again for the holiday season. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic surging in many parts of the United States, the major U.S.-based carriers are taking different approaches. While JetBlue and United Airlines are anticipating crowds, Southwest is warning investors of capacity cuts.

JetBlue and United Increase Flights, while Southwest Contracts Available Seats

With Thanksgiving and the winter holidays around the corner, JetBlue and United say they are planning to increase flights and operations to accommodate all travelers. Both are taking a different approach: one is focusing on certain routes, while the other is increasing domestic routes for November and December 2020.

JetBlue will operate 25 additional flights between Nov. 20 and Nov. 30, 2020, in anticipation of a busy Thanksgiving season. The routes are based out of their headquarters in New York, with an emphasis on their “visiting friends and relatives” strategy. The airline will add six flights from John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), four from Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) and two from Westchester County Airport (HPN).

For United, the surge will last throughout the end of the year. Anticipating flyers will book their flights less than 30 days before departure, the airline is adding 1,400 domestic flights across the country for the week of Thanksgiving. For the month of December 2020, the airline will fly 52 percent of their normal domestic schedule, adding an additional 140 daily flights to their schedule. The Chicago-based carrier will also add capacity on over 350 routes currently served.

The optimism is not shared by Southwest Airlines, which usually benefits from family travel. In an advisory to investors, the airline announced they are only anticipating load factors between 50 and 55 percent in November 2020, with an uptick to between 60 and 70 percent in December 2020. While November operating revenues are expected to be slightly higher, December 2020 revenues are expected to drop.

“Passenger demand and booking trends remain primarily leisure-oriented and inconsistent by region, and the Company continues to plan for multiple scenarios for its fleet and capacity plans,” the Southwest statement reads. “The Company will continue to monitor demand and booking trends and adjust capacity, as deemed necessary, on an ongoing basis.”

FAA Continues to Remain Neutral on Face Mask Policies

With indicators suggesting more flyers are traveling for the winter season, the Federal Aviation Administration is still refusing to issue mandates on face coverings. Instead, they are offering flyers “Federal Guidance to Fly Healthy” in the end of the year. Their tips include wearing face coverings aboard aircraft, practice good sanitation, and to check arrival requirements for your destination. In October 2020, the U.S. Department of Transportation declined to issue a face mask requirement for all public travel, under the reasoning of avoiding additional unnecessary regulations.

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