Carriers Trim Schedules to Improve Ops & Adjust to Demand

Airlines navigate a vexing brew of airport construction, staff and pilot shortages and changing demand environment as summer travel goes into full swing.

Carriers Trim Schedules to Improve Ops & Adjust to Demand

United Airlines announced Thursday that it was removing 50 daily domestic departures from its schedule at Newark Liberty International Airport effective July 1, the carrier confirmed. The departures represent about 12 percent of the airline's Newark schedule. 

The carrier requested a waiver from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to temporarily adjust its schedule for the remainder of summer to "help minimize excessive delays and improve on-time performance," and to help "mitigate Newark congestion," wrote United's EVP and COO Jon Roitman in a memo to staff.

The cuts will not result in any market exits, just frequency reductions, and are the result of "irregular operations in Newark, caused by many factors, including airport construction," wrote Roitman, adding that the airline has the "planes, pilots, crews and staff to support our Newark schedule."

United CEO Scott Kirby has been vocal about the challenges at Newark, noting during the company's first-quarter earnings call. He said that in theory, Newark has the capacity to fly 79 operations per hour, in "perfect conditions, which are rare," but that the FAA has let airlines violate those rules, according to Kirby. 

"Unfortunately, our employees and our customers are collateral damage to that," Kirby said. "It is time for the FAA to enforce their own rules."

Another issue Kirby noted during a CNN interview was air traffic control being understaffed, leading to "more flights than the airport can handle."

Still, Roitman in his memo thanked "the professionals in Newark's FAA air traffic control tower and the NY TRACON, whose expertise has been exemplary during this challenging time." Further, the memo noted that United did not anticipate any schedule changes to its other six domestic hubs this summer.

Other Carrier Cuts

United is not alone is adjusting its schedule. Delta Air Lines confirmed it is ending nonstop flights between Atlanta and each Colorado Springs and Oakland, and between Detroit and Sacramento as of Sept. 6. It also has cut announced service before it even began between Boston and Memphis. 

The service reductions come nearly a month after Delta announced it was cutting approximately 100 daily departures between July 1 and Aug. 7 in the United States and Latin America to improve its operational reliability.

American Airlines also confirmed it was eliminating service to four regional cities and cutting three routes. The destinations losing service are due to the regional pilot shortage, according to American, and include Islip and Ithaca in New York; Toledo, Ohio; and Dubuque, Iowa, all as of Sept. 7. 

"We'll proactively reach out to customers scheduled to travel after this date to offer alternative arrangements," American wrote in a statement.

The other route cuts are scheduled to take place between Charlotte and Alexandria, La., in October, and between Chicago and each Ontario, Calif., and Saint Lucia in November. 

JetBlue in April announced it would cut about 10 percent of its summer schedule compared to its original plan in order to increase reliability, according to a company statement. On its second-quarter earnings call that same day, the company reduced its planned capacity growth to zero to 5 percent in 2022 from plans for 11 to 15 percent. 

U.S. carriers have had a tough start to the busy summer season, with nearly 3,000 fights canceled Memorial Day Weekend and nearly 3,400 canceled this past Juneteenth weekend, June 17-20, according to data from FlightAware. Pent-up travel demand coupled with staffing shortages and inclement weather are contributing to the disruptions.