Although the increases are significant, the pandemic has dealt an unprecedented blow to the industry. During the busiest day in May, only 14% of travelers flew compared to the equivalent day in 2019.
More passengers are also filing onto each flight. Domestic flights carried an average of 47 passengers each this weekend, up from an average of only 17 passengers at the beginning of May, according to Airlines for America.
Those loads are unprofitable, so more passengers on flights means airlines will burn less cash with each takeoff and landing.
Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly said Friday his company is anticipating “a brutal low-fare environment as there are far more airline seats right now — and there will be for some time — than there are customers.”
Frontier Airlines is preparing for an increasing number of passengers on its flights by screening temperatures at the departure gate and denying boarding to anyone who is feverish. Airlines for America is urging the Transportation Security Administration to handle temperature screenings.
Airlines are also adding to their schedules and flying more planes. Industry-wide, about 200 fewer aircraft are sitting idle than in mid-May, when the airlines parked more than 3,200 planes. The tracking service FlightAware says it saw a nearly 7% increase in US flights since early May.
Southwest is bullish enough that it is adding nearly a dozen new routes to its schedule this winter.