United targets Midwest vacationers in summer…

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

Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images

United Airlines is adding more than two dozen nonstop routes from the Midwest to coastal cities popular with vacationers for the summer season, a bet that travelers will continue to gravitate toward the outdoors.

The Chicago-based airline said Thursday that its overall May schedule will be 52% of what it flew in May 2019, which will be most flying in more than a year, when the pandemic shut down businesses and most air travel. Last May it flew 14% of its May 2019 capacity. Its domestic schedule in May will be 58% of its May 2019 capacity.

The plans show the carrier’s focus on domestic vacationers for another summer, generally the most lucrative season for airlines. Air travel has steadily climbed as more people were vaccinated over the past month but business travel and international trips are still down sharply compared with domestic vacation spots.

“We wanted to point our assets to where the demand is,” said Ankit Gupta, United’s vice president of network and schedule planning. He said the airline’s capacity to Florida is almost back to the same level of 2019.

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

Most of the service will be on its 50-seat CRJ-550 jet.

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

Other carriers are also going after customers eager to get outside. Delta Air Lines last week announced a host of summer service to destinations like Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and Glacier Park, Montana.

Leisure-focused budget carriers like Spirit Airlines are also planning to grow this summer, while low-cost Southwest Airlines is going into United’s turf by entering hubs at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago and George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston.

Southwest on Thursday announced its own expansion with service to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, with nonstop flights from Baltimore, Chicago’s Midway and Nashville, Tennessee, starting on May 23 and from Atlanta, Columbus, Ohio, and Indianapolis beginning on June 6. It will also operate Saturday service from Dallas Love Field and Pittsburgh starting May 29.

“There’s going to be significant competition for all the customers in the U.S.,” said United’s Gupta. “We believe we do have all the right ingredients.”

International travel continues to lag domestic trips because of continued travel restrictions and weak demand. United’s May international schedule is 46% of its May 2019 schedule, though it’s Latin American and Caribbean flying will surpass May 2019 levels as travelers seek vacations and visit friends and family.

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