It's a U.S. Leisure Route Bonanza This Summer
Southwest Airlines and United Airlines went on a summer route expansion spree last week. The carriers unveiled a combined total of 59 new routes, some year-round and others seasonal, with the dominant theme connecting either beach or outdoor destinations to larger cities that cooped-up Americans may want to escape.
Dallas-based Southwest is going big with 30 new routes, including 10 from new destination Myrtle Beach — one of 17 cities it has added to its map since the coronavirus pandemic began. The discounter will connect the South Carolina beach city to Atlanta, Baltimore/Washington, Chicago Midway, Columbus, Dallas Love Field, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Nashville, Pittsburgh and St. Louis in phases beginning May 23.
But that’s not all for Myrtle Beach. Never a large carrier in the southeast, United plans 26 new non-hub routes to Charleston, Hilton Head and Myrtle Beach in South Carolina, plus Pensacola, Fla., and Portland, Maine, beginning May 27. The airline will connect the cities to Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and St. Louis for the summer. Many of the routes will be flown with dual-class Bombardier CRJ550s, an aircraft United introduced in 2019 to attract more business travelers but — with the return of corporate road warriors still unknown — is pivoting to leisure markets where travelers are flying.
It’s not only southern beach destinations — and Portland, Maine — that will feel Southwest and United’s presence this summer. The former is also going into full defensive mode following American Airlines‘ expansion in Austin, and Delta Air Lines‘ decision to double down on its “focus city” there. Southwest will add seven new routes between Austin and Burbank, Destin-Fort Walton Beach, Miami, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Orange County, Sacramento and Salt Lake City beginning in phases on May 9. Alaska Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines and Spirit Airlines have also unveiled new routes to the Texas capital in recent months.
But that’s not all, folks. Southwest plans another 13 new new summer routes connecting cities across its U.S. map, including recent additions Bozeman, Destin-Fort Walton Beach, Miami and Sarasota-Bradenton. In addition, United will connect its Chicago O’Hare hub to Nantucket; Houston Intercontinental hub to Kalispell, Mont.; and Washington Dulles hub to Bozeman.
Despite all the route announcements, neither Southwest nor United plans to back to their full 2019 capacity this summer — and maybe not this year. Neither airline has firmed their third-quarter schedule yet, but both are expected to be down by double digits compared with two years ago.
- It’s wagons, err, airplanes east in Canada. Air Canada and WestJet are set to resume flights to cities in Eastern Canada that they suspended during the worst of the crisis. Air Canada will resume flights to Charlottetown, Fredericton, Moncton, Saint John and Sydney, Nova Scotia, on June 1. WestJet will follow with flights returning to Charlottetown, Fredericton, Moncton, Quebec City and Sydney between June 24 and June 30. The resumptions come as both airlines hope Canadian federal and provincial governments ease travel restrictions as more people are vaccinated ahead of the the summer.
- IAG-owned Aer Lingus will make its debut in the transatlantic market from the UK this summer. The Irish carrier will begin service between Manchester and both New York JFK and Orlando on July 29, Barbados on October 20, and Boston next summer. The routes come months after Aer Lingus received the green light to join the transatlantic joint venture of American, British Airways, Finnair and Iberia. The airline will fly new Airbus A321LRs on the Boston and New York flights, and Airbus A330-300s on the Barbados and Orlando flights.
- Delta is returning to Iceland this summer after a year-and-a-half hiatus during the pandemic. The carrier will launch new seasonal Boston-Reykjavík flights and resume Minneapolis/St. Paul-Reykjavík and New York JFK-Reykjavík service in May. The additions come on the heels of the country announcing it will reopen to any fully vaccinated traveler after April 1.
- The surge in new seasonal, leisure-oriented routes this summer continues with Hawaiian. The Honolulu-based carrier will offer seasonal service between Kahului on the island of Maui and Phoenix from May 21 through August 15. The new route follows the additions of Austin, Ontario, Calif., and Orlando to its map this spring.
- Airlines have repeatedly touted visiting friends and relatives traffic as among the first to come during during the crisis. Keeping with this, Viva Aerobus will add new service between León/Guanajuato and San Antonio on May 1. The Mexican discounter is the rare pandemic recovery story having resumed its full 2019 capacity by last November.
- WestJet is flying both east and west this summer. In addition to resuming flights to five eastern Canada cities, it will add 11 routes connecting destinations across western Canada already on its map. Additions include Edmonton to Kamloops, Nanaimo and Penticton; Toronto to Comox and Fort McMurray; and Victoria to Ottawa, Saskatoon and Winnipeg. The new flights launch from June 6 to June 26.