United Airlines (UAL) – Get Report plans to add more than two dozen new flights to its domestic schedule starting Memorial Day weekend amid what it sees as a pickup in demand for domestic leisure travel as U.S. vaccination rates rise.
Starting in May, United will operate 26 nonstop flights from seven Midwestern cities to three destinations in South Carolina, one in Florida and one in Maine, according to a company statement Thursday.
The new service follows the November addition of direct flights to Florida from the East and Midwest that avoided the company’s hubs in Chicago and Newark, New Jersey.
The strategy reflects demand from vacationers for nonstop service that keeps them away from large, potentially congested airports amid the coronavirus pandemic, even as U.S. vaccination rates increase.
“In the past few weeks, we have seen the strongest flight bookings since the start of the pandemic,” Ankit Gupta, vice president of United’s domestic network planning and scheduling, said in the statement, noting that United will continue being “nimble and strategic” with its network to add the right service to destinations fliers want to visit.
Faced with a severe dearth of business-passenger and international traffic, major airlines including United have moved to revamp large parts of their networks to focus on serving leisure travelers.
Most of the new flights will connect cities in the Midwest to tourist destinations, such as Charleston, Hilton Head and Myrtle Beach in South Carolina; Portland, Maine; Savannah, Ga.; and Pensacola, Fla.
Chicago-based United also said it planned to offer more flights to Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America and South America in May than it did during the same month in 2019.
United said it expects to operate 52% of its overall schedule compared to May 2019; in May 2020 United operated 14% of its overall schedule compared to May 2019.
Shares of United were down 1.63% at $52.95 in trading on Thursday.