United is expecting December to be the busiest air travel month in almost 2 years

United is expecting December to be the busiest air travel month in almost 2 years
  • United Airlines is expecting December to be its busiest holiday travel month in two years.

  • The airline has scheduled over 3,500 flights daily domestic departures in December.

  • United will offer nearly 70 daily flights to ski destinations, including a new route from California to Aspen.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

United Airlines announced on Thursday that it is planning its largest domestic schedule since 2019 in anticipation of a busy winter travel season.

United Airlines is expecting strong holiday travel this year, with a 16% increase in winter travel searches on its website and mobile app compared to the same time in 2019, according to the carrier. To prepare for the surge in demand, the airline said it has scheduled over 3,500 daily domestic departures this December, which is 91% of the flights offered in 2019.

While the schedule is still subject to change, United said it anticipates the busiest Thanksgiving travel days to be Wednesday, November 24, and Sunday, November 28. Meanwhile, the most popular winter travel days are expected to be Thursday, December 23, and Sunday, January 2.

"We're seeing a lot of pent-up demand in our data and are offering a December schedule that centers on the two things people want most for the holidays: warm sunshine and fresh snow. We know families and friends are eager to reunite this holiday season, which is why we're thrilled to add new flights that will help them connect and celebrate together," said United's vice president of network planning and scheduling Ankit Gupta.

The airline plans to resume routes it had suspended during the pandemic and introduce new ones, with the intent to connect the Midwest to warm-weather cities as well as offer more service to ski destinations across the US. New service to warm destinations includes direct flights to Las Vegas and Phoenix from Cleveland and Indianapolis to Orlando.

United also plans to resume eight nonstop routes from Midwest cities to Florida, including Tampa, Orlando, Fort Myers, and Fort Lauderdale. The airline is also resuming four popular routes from winter 2020, including Columbus, Ohio; Indianapolis, Indiana; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Fort Myers. Overall, the airline will offer up to 195 daily departures to 12 destinations in the Sunshine State, marking the most amount of flights offered to Florida in the company's history.

Travelers heading to ski destinations will have nearly 70 daily flight options, including a brand new route from John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana, California to Aspen. Other popular destinations include Jackson Hole, Wyoming; Steamboat Springs, Colorado; and Bozeman, Montana.

While United's schedule could be the busiest it has been in over a year, the airline is still not at capacity, and the TSA does not expect to screen as many passengers as it did in 2019.

"While we do expect travel volume to increase during Thanksgiving week, specifically on the Sunday after Thanksgiving (28 Nov) we are not expecting to reach the 2.8+ million number we saw in 2019. Screening times vary for numerous reasons and vary by airport, so it's almost impossible to give specific screening time predictions. However, we're very confident that TSA officers will meet the challenge of screening millions of passengers on their way to and from their holiday destinations," TSA spokesperson Daniel Velez told Insider.

President and travel industry analyst of Amosphere Research Group Henry Harteveldt said United's schedule will provide more options to travelers.

"United's added flights will provide holiday travelers with more options. What we'll need to see is how other airlines respond, which, given the calendar, needs to be soon as people are starting to focus on Thanksgiving and Christmas/New Year travel. More flights mean more seats, and more seats generally translates into lower airfares," he said.

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