Few people are flying. What is an airline to do? Lots of fine-tuning.


Every airline is struggling, but each struggles in its own way.

United Airlines relies far more than its rivals on international travel, which is expected to take far longer than domestic travel to bounce back. So the airline is fine-tuning its business, from maintenance to flight planning, as it tries to predict where a wary public will fly, reports Niraj Chokshi.

“We can really throw away the crystal ball, which was hazy to begin with,” said Ankit Gupta, United’s vice president for domestic network planning.

When the virus devastated travel in March and April, United took hundreds of planes out of circulation. Since July, it has brought back more than 150, including those flown by regional carriers, but about 450 are still stashed away.

To understand when and how demand might recover, United is tracking indicators like national travel restrictions, the travel habits of dual citizens and the economic ties between countries. “It’s a bit of gut feeling, to be quite candid,” said Patrick Quayle, who oversees the airline’s international network planning.

Most of the people still flying are staying within the country, visiting friends and relatives or vacationing outdoors. So the airline is gauging how many flights to add to snowy destinations, while adding winter service to Florida from the Northeast and the Midwest. It also plans to expand service on dozens of routes to tropical destinations near and within the United States.

Whatever happens in the months to come, said Tom Doxey, United’s senior vice president for technical operations, “we have a plan in place.”



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