United Slashes December Schedule But Plans Extra Flights for Peak Holiday Travel Days at O'Hare, Other Hubs

Nov. 10, 2020

United Airlines will offer less than half the number of flights it did last December as the coronavirus pandemic continues to take a toll on travel heading into the holiday season.

Still, Chicago-based United expects the holidays to bring more travelers back to the skies and will add extra flights around peak holiday travel days, United said Monday.

The week of Thanksgiving is expected to be its busiest since March. In December, the busiest holiday travel days iwill see more daily departures than the rest of the month, including more flights from hubs in Chicago, Denver, Houston and Washington, D.C., United said.

The airline said it expects about half of its passengers flying for Thanksgiving to book their trips less than a month in advance, up from about 40% last year.

It wasn't immediately clear which destinations would see fewer holiday season flights than last year. United plans to fly 52% of last year's December schedule of domestic flights.

Even with fewer flights, average domestic airfares are expected to drop roughly 40% around Thanksgiving and Christmas due to lower demand, travel data firm Hopper said last month.

Nearly half of Chicagoans aren't planning to travel as much this holiday season as they did last year, according to a consumer survey by Deloitte.

United is adding service to warm-weather destinations in Florida and Hawaii, including resuming service between Chicago and Maui, as well as domestic ski destinations and some international beach destinations. The airline said it plans to fly 43% of last year's schedule of international flights, up from 39% in November.

"While this holiday travel season looks quite different than recent years, we're continuing to follow the same playbook we have all year long – watching the data and adding more flights, adjusting schedules and leveraging larger aircraft to give customers more ways to reunite with family or reach their destinations," Ankit Gupta, United's vice president of network planning and scheduling, said in a news release.


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