- United plans to launch 17 new routes to cities in Florida during the holiday season.
- These are unusual routes for United: None of them connect through one of the airline’s hubs.
- Point-to-point flying, a common move for low-cost airlines like Allegiant, represents a new strategy for United as it tries to take advantage of spurts of demand during the pandemic.
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United Airlines will launch 17 new flights to Florida this winter, looking to capitalize on travelers eager to soak up some sun and visit family over the holiday season. The bid for extra revenue makes sense — but the routes are unusual for the airline, and represent a shift in strategy as the ongoing coronavirus pandemic upends industry norms.
Like most mainstream airlines, United runs a hub and spoke model. The majority of its flights either take off from or land at one of its hubs or focus cities, which include Chicago, Los Angeles, Newark, and Washington, DC.
These new routes skip the hubs, taking passengers to various destinations in Florida directly from Milwaukee, Columbus, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, New York, and Boston. Instead of connecting traffic helping to fill flights, United appears to be going after demand for travel solely between city pairings.
This sort of point-to-point flying is more common among low-cost airlines like Allegiant, which rely less on interconnected networks with partner airlines and connecting feeder models, and instead try and capitalize on individual pockets of demand — sometimes effectively creating the demand in a small market by introducing a leisure route.
But given the disruption the pandemic has had on the airline industry, any new strategy to capture revenue can merit a go. United lost $2.6 billion in the first quarter of the year, and another $1.6 billion in the second. CEO Scott Kirby said during a call with analysts and media in July that the airline does not expect to see demand recover above 50% of 2019 levels until a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, something he does not see happening before late next year.
The new nonstop flights will operate daily, bringing up to 28 new daily flights to United’s network. This is a short-term measure: The flights, each of which will begin either November 6 or December 17, will all end on January 10.
These routes may be new to United, but the airline isn’t exactly planting a flag. Each city pair is already served by another airline — some by legacy carriers like Delta and American, most by low-cost carriers like Spirit, Southwest, Frontier, and JetBlue.
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United thinks fighting for customers on those routes is worth it. The move “reflects our data driven approach to add capacity where customers are telling us they want to go,” Ankit Gupta, United’s vice president of domestic network planning, said in a press release. “We look forward to offering customers in the Midwest and Northeast more options to fly nonstop to Florida this winter.”
In moments of crisis, sometimes the path to success demands breaking the mold — or at least the model.
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