United targets summer season vacationers within the Midwest

A United Airlines Holdings Inc. Bombardier CRJ-550 aircraft sits at a gate at O’Hare International Airport (ORD) in Chicago, Illinois.

Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images

United Airlines adds more than two dozen non-stop routes from the Midwest to coastal cities popular with vacationers for the summer season. This is a bet travelers will keep taking an interest in the outdoors.

The Chicago-based airline announced on Thursday that its overall May flight schedule will be 52% of the May 2019 airfare, which will be the busiest in more than a year when the pandemic has closed businesses and most air travel. Last May, it flew 14% of its capacity in May 2019. The domestic schedule for May will be 58% of its capacity for May 2019.

The plans show the airline is focusing on local vacationers for another summer, usually the most lucrative airline season. Air travel has steadily increased as more people were vaccinated last month, but business travel and international travel are still declining sharply compared to domestic vacation spots.

“We wanted to base our assets on demand,” said Ankit Gupta, United’s vice president of network and scheduling. He said the airline’s capacity to Florida was almost back to 2019 levels.

Starting May 27, United is planning new nonstop flights from Cleveland, Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee and Indianapolis. Destinations and frequencies vary two to four times per week depending on the market and include Portland, Maine, Hilton Head and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and Pensacola, Florida.

Most of the service is performed on his 50-seat CRJ-550 jet.

Other new nonstops are Houston to Kalispell, Montana, Washington to Bozeman, Montana and Chicago to Nantucket, Massachusetts

Other airlines are also looking for customers who really want to get outside. Delta Air Lines announced a series of summer flights to destinations such as Jackson Hole, Wyoming and Glacier Park, Montana last week.

Leisure-time low-cost airlines like Spirit Airlines are also planning to grow this summer, while low-cost carrier Southwest Airlines is stepping into United’s turf with hubs at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

“There will be significant competition for all US customers,” said Gupta. “We believe we have the right ingredients.”

International travel continues to lag behind domestic travel due to persistent travel restrictions and weak demand. United’s international flight schedule for May accounts for 46% of the May 2019 flight schedule, although flying in Latin America and the Caribbean will surpass May 2019 levels as travelers seek vacations and visit friends and family.

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