COVID-19: North America market update (w/e April 19)

Routes' latest update on how airlines and airports across North America are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic

Welcome to Routes’ weekly look at how the North American aviation market is responding to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, helping you understand the schedule changes and manage the impact so we can navigate through this crisis together.

 The data is supplied by OAG using its OAG Schedules Analyser tool unless stated. Please note: the COVID-19 crisis remains fluid as airlines around the world continue to make dramatic capacity cuts. OAG has taken several steps to ensure the data is as accurate as possible. 

North America capacity

Overall capacity across North America fell by 27% last week (w/c April 13) to fewer than 9 million available departure seats, representing a week-on-week drop of more than 3 million seats. The figure of 8.55 million weekly seats is down by 64% compared with the same week in 2019 when in excess of 23.8 million departure seats were offered by carriers across North America. In the US, capacity last week totaled 8.2 million seats, while in Canada there were 313,853 departure seats. Looking at schedules data for the current week (w/c April 20), airlines are set to offer about 7.9 million seats across North America.

Of the routes operating across North America, figures provided by OAG show the largest amount of capacity was available between Denver (DEN) and Phoenix Sky Harbor (PHX). A total of 28,011 two-way seats were available last week across 178 flights. However, this was down from 37,596 seats and 245 flights during the previous seven days.

DEN-Las Vegas (LAS), Los Angeles (LAX)-San Francisco (SFO), DEN-LAX and PHX-San Diego (SAN) completed the top five routes ranked by available capacity. 

For comparison, only one of the top five North American routes by capacity last week were among the top five during the same week a year ago. This was LAX-SFO, which topped the list of routes by weekly capacity during w/c April 15, 2019.

North America airlines

Dallas-based Southwest was the largest airline by capacity in the North America market last week, offering 3 million seats. However, the figure represented a week-on-week fall of more than 1 million seats.

American was the second largest operator last week, offering 2.08 million weekly seats, with Delta third, offering 1.09 million. Compared with the same week a year ago, Southwest offered 4.1 million seats, American offered 4.97 million and Delta offered 4.66 million.

Overall capacity across the ‘big four’ US carriers—American, Delta, Southwest and United—totaled 7.15 million seats last week, a week-on-week reduction of 26%. A year ago, the four offered a combined total of 17.6 million weekly seats.

The continued reduction in capacity last week came as the US Treasury Department reached an agreement in principle with 10 large American passenger airlines, ensuring their participation in the $25 billion Payroll Support Program (PSP) established by the CARES Act. The 10 airlines are: Alaska, Allegiant Air, American, Delta, Frontier, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue, SkyWest Airlines, Southwest and United. 

Spirit is yet to strike an agreement, but the ULCC said it “continues to work directly with the Treasury Department regarding our application for payroll assistance funds.” The airline added that it “expects to agree on terms soon.”

American will receive $5.8 billion in total payroll assistance, consisting of a $4.1 billion grant and a $1.7 billion unsecured, low-interest-rate term loan. In addition, the carrier expects to separately apply for a loan from the Treasury Department of approximately $4.75 billion. 

“The support our government has entrusted to us carries immense responsibility and an obligation that American Airlines is privileged to undertake,” American CEO Doug Parker said.

“We recognize the importance of our service as evidenced by the customers who continue to fly today for important reasons, including medical professionals getting to where they are most needed and family members getting to where they feel most safe. It is our privilege to continue flying through the downturn and to be in a ready position as our country and the world return to the skies.”

Under the requirements of the CARES Act, carriers must agree to maintain minimum levels of service to all points in their pre-pandemic networks to the extent “reasonable or practicable.” As reported by Routes, American is seeking to halt or curtail flying to a dozen markets, while Alaska, Allegiant and United have also submitted waiver requests to the US Department of Transportation (DOT). 

However, the DOT has largely denied requests for exemptions to minimum service rules from Spirit Airlines and JetBlue Airways.

Spirit requested to drop 26 cities from its network, including Austin, New York, Pittsburgh, Portland, Richmond and San Francisco. However, the only request the DOT accepted was for Rafael Hernández International (BQN) in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, which has been closed by the FAA. 

JetBlue had sought to suspend service to 11 markets but the only two points to which the DOT approved the exemptions are BQN and Mercedita (PSE), both on Puerto Rico.

Photo credit: Southwest Airlines

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