Fall travel: United adding and restoring October flights for leisure travelers

United Airlines announced Friday that it plans to add new routes and restore dozens more routes to its October schedule. The new and returning routes mean the Chicago-based airline will be flying 46% of last October’s domestic schedule, an 8% increase over September.

The airline is also restoring eight Hawaii routes, wagering that Hawaii will allow out-of-state visitors to return without quarantining for 14 days beginning Oct. 1. The Aloha State is already requiring both transpacific and inter-island travelers to submit a digital application with their health and contact information, and once it allows out-of-state visitors to return, officials plan to institute a “resort bubble” that will keep tabs on them but allow them to move between islands.

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The airline said it plans to add the new domestic flights on days close to the weekend in an attempt to appeal to leisure travelers looking to “get a head start on long weekend getaways.” 

United is also adding some international routes to destinations where Americans are allowed to fly in Mexico, Central America and South America. It will fly 33% of its October 2019 international schedule, a 4% increase over September.

The new international routes include Bogota, Colombia; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Lima, Peru and Panama City, Panama. The airline will also restore or increase service to Cancun, Puerto Vallarta and Mexico City. Across the Atlantic, it will restore service to Tel Aviv, Israel, from New York and Washington, D.C.

Adding leisure travel routes is somewhat unusual for October, but then again, 2020 has been anything but usual, and the coronavirus pandemic has forced the industry to take advantage of any bright spot in an otherwise bleak landscape. And with business travel – its most profitable sector – next to nonexistent, leisure travel is that bright spot.

“Because October is typically a slower month for leisure travel, we’re adjusting our schedules to reflect these seasonal changes in customer demand while resuming service or adding capacity on routes where we’re seeing increased customer demand for travel,” Ankit Gupta, United’s vice president of Domestic Network Planning, said in a release.

Southwest Airlines also just announced it is adding two new warm-weather destinations, Miami International Airport and Palm Springs International Airport, to woo leisure travelers.

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United’s plan to add flights comes just days after it announced it will furlough 16,000 workers. That’s about less than half the number it warned about in July.

Airline officials said the final number could come down further before Oct. 1, following the expiration of a prohibition in the CARES Act that bans carriers that accept bailout money from laying off employees. United said the furloughs would be postponed if Washington approves another $25 billion to help passenger airlines cover payroll costs.

Flight attendants will bear the brunt of the cuts, with 6,920 getting furlough notices. About 2,850 pilots, 2,010 maintenance workers and 1,400 management and support staff would also lose their jobs.

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Contributing: Dawn Gilbertson and David Oliver, USA TODAY; Associated Press

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