Despite a nationwide surge in coronavirus cases, United Airlines has added 1,400 flights to its domestic schedule ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday.
"We are offering more flights than we have ever done during the pandemic," Ankit Gupta, vice president of network planning and scheduling for United Airlines, told Cheddar. "This is going to be one of our busiest days. We are definitely hoping to capture all of the people who really want to go and visit their family during that time."
The Sunday after Thanksgiving is typically one of the airline's busiest days of the year. With demand down overall since March, that's likely to remain true in 2020.
"The demand has been depressed, but I would say on a relative basis the Thanksgiving week will be one of the strongest weeks of the year so far," Gupta said.
In the last week, however, the U.S. has come to terms with the reality of a "second wave," with many states and municipalities reinstating lockdown measures and travel advisories. Some officials have even called for people to cancel their holiday plans.
For now at least, Gupta said the uptick hasn't impacted demand going into the holiday season.
The airline has already routed another 1,400 flights for December. Many of these flights are going into Florida and the Caribbean, as well as destinations such as Hawaii, which has partnered with United to require rapid testing prior to flights from San Francisco.
Gupta said the airline is looking into expanding rapid testing to other flights, and has already piloted a program where every passenger on a flight to Heathrow Airport in London was tested. It's also partnered with Portland International Jetport in Maine to implement a testing-on-arrival program.
He also touted the airline's on-flight safety measures, such as using auxiliary power units to keep air filtration systems running even after the plane has landed and powered down.
With the airline offering free refunds to all passengers during the pandemic though, there is always the possibility of a drop-off in customers due to the changing course of the pandemic. Gupta said the airline is prepared for that reality.
"With all that flexibility, we are also looking at our schedules and making sure that we can cut our flying in case we see a drop in demand," he said.