How United Airlines is trying to plan for a pandemic

How United Airlines is trying to plan for a pandemic

When the coronavirus pandemic wiped out travel in the spring, United Airlines reduced its flight schedule, canceled planes in the New Mexico desert and grounded aircraft in hangars across the country.

That was the easy part.

Now, with what is usually the peak summer season behind it and intermittent travel, the airline continues to fine-tune every aspect of its business, from maintenance to flight planning, as it tries to predict where a cautious public will want to fly, challenging even at the best of times.

“We can really get rid of the crystal ball, which was blurry at first,” said Ankit Gupta, United Vice President of Local Network Planning.

Passenger volumes for US airlines have decreased by about 65 percent, According to an industry group, And the major carriers took on massive debts because they were losing billions of dollars every month. After hopes of a congressional rescue package faded last month, United have licensed more than 13,000 workers and American Airlines 19,000.

But as each airline struggles, each struggles in its own way. United relies much more than its rivals on international travel, which is in a dire depression and is expected to take much longer than domestic travel to recover. The return to lucrative business flights will also be slow, and the airline said this week it had raised more than $ 19 billion in cash and other funds available to handle the downturn.

“We have 12 to 15 months of pain, sacrifice and difficulty,” United CEO Scott Kirby said in a earnings conference on Thursday. “But we did what it took in the initial stages to get confidence – it’s really about trust – in getting over the crisis and to the other side.”

While navigating this route, the airline has focused on creating savings while preparing itself to serve the few passengers who still want to travel. When the virus ravaged travel in March and April, the airline took hundreds of aircraft out of circulation. Among the first aircraft to be launched were the double-aisle aircraft used for international flights, which fell early as countries closed borders. The single aisle aircraft – of the type used for internal roads – followed soon after.

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About 150 planes were sent to long-term storage in Roswell, New Mexico – yeah, That Roswell Dry conditions are better suited for long-term maintenance of aircraft. Many others were stopped at United’s central airports in and near cities, including Chicago, Washington and Newark, where technicians could easily bring them back into service if needed.

The company said on Thursday that since July it has returned more than 150 aircraft that it or its regional carriers have banned. About 450 are still hidden, but they must be maintained in a flexible manner.

To do it right, Tom Doxy, United’s senior vice president of technical operations, and his team consult models created by computer scientists and seek guidance from maintenance crews. In general, there are two things looming over the horizon: when the aircraft will need significant maintenance and the likelihood that you will be among the first to start flying again.

“If you have a plane that probably won’t be back anytime soon, you kind of want it in the back of the parking lot,” said Mr. Doxy. “They are stored for a long time and may go to a desert site.”

Fortunately for Doxy and United, some travel trends are springing up, making his job easier. Most people who still travel stay within the country, visit friends and relatives, or spend an outdoor vacation. If the airline planners are right, travel may shift to the ski slopes in the west soon, too. These flights will use United’s smaller, single aisle aircraft.

Planning methods in such lean times can be incredibly complex, as airlines weigh a host of variables over limited resources. Not only do the right planes have to be in the right places, but planners should make sure they have gate agents, baggage handlers, flight attendants and pilots needed for every flight – roundtrip – all while trying to accommodate erratic travel trends.

To forecast winter demand, Mr Gupta and his local planning team consulted with resort operators and employees near the ski towns to gauge how many rides the company should add to the snow destinations. Based on recent and historical trends, they have also added an unusual mix of direct flights to Florida this winter from the Northeast and Midwest. On Thursday, United began offering experimental coronavirus tests to customers flying from San Francisco to Hawaii to help them avoid state quarantine requirements and hopefully boost sales. It also plans to expand service on dozens of routes to tropical destinations near and within the United States and to resume flights on nearly 30 international routes.

With fewer people flying internationally, United has less of a need for its wide-body jetliners, which account for a quarter of its fleet. But it did find a benefit to some of those larger aircraft: when The demand for air freight Soaring, United put their largest, most fuel-efficient 787s into cargo haulage.

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Before the pandemic, the airline operated more than 300 daily flights abroad, but that number dropped to 11 during the depths of the crisis. Next month, the airline plans to operate more than 150 international flights every day. To understand when and how that demand might recover, Patrick Coyle, who oversees United Nations international network planning and his team, is tracking a range of indicators, including national travel restrictions, dual citizens’ travel habits and economic relations between countries.

He said: “It’s a little bit about playing the role of the United Nations, looking at alliances, looking at passport data, and being kind of honest is an inner feeling.”

Although difficult to plan, it is also becoming more difficult. The federal stimulus passed in March, the CARES Act, gave airlines $ 25 billion to help keep tens of thousands of employees running. It also made life a little easier for network planners, allowing them to worry less about whether the trip would cover labor costs, big expenses, and freeing them to make last-minute changes knowing that there were far more employees available to work than needed. The aid expired last month, with the prospect of another round of financing Faded considerably.

However, there may be cause for hope. The Transportation Security Administration screened nearly a million people at airport checkpoints on Sunday, the highest number since mid-March, though still less than 40 percent of the number examined on the same day of the week last year. Doxy said that whatever happens in the coming months, United is ready: “We have a plan ready.”

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