United plans to add 25,000 flights in August as customers ‘are slowly returning’

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A United Airlines Boeing 737 passenger jet takes off at San Antonio International Airport in Texas.

Robert Alexander

United Airlines is planning to add about 25,000 flights in August, hoping to capitalize on an uptick in air travel, particularly to leisure destinations ranging from Bozeman, Montana, to Bangor, Maine.

The Chicago-based carrier and its competitors are seeing an uptick in travel demand from the five-decade lows hit in April as the Covid-19 pandemic took hold in the U.S.

“While travel demand remains a fraction of what it was at the end of 2019, customers are slowly returning to flying, with a preference for leisure destinations, trips to reunite with friends and family, and getaways to places that encourage social distancing,” United said in its announcement on Wednesday.

Even with the increase in flights, United will be flying about half of its August 2019 domestic capacity and a quarter of the international service it operated last year. In comparison, this month it plans to fly about 30% of its domestic service as the same month last year, and just 16% of international service, the airline said.

The virus, and the measures taken to try to stop it from spreading, have shuttered key tourist attractions and prompted stay-at-home orders, devastating air travel. The number of people passing through U.S. airport security checkpoints in June was around a fifth of last year’s levels, according to the latest federal data.

It was not immediately clear whether United would tweak its plans for additional trans-Atlantic service because the European Union continues to bar Americans from travel amid the pandemic.

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