United Airlines has found a way to adapt as low passenger volume continues to disrupt the travel industry. Under normal circumstances, 'empty' flights are rare. However, the norm for the travel industry during COVID-19 is that sparsely filled flights are causing airlines to bleed money.
United Airlines is attempting to conserve cash through a new algorithm that will actually auto-cancel flights that do not have enough passengers. However, United is only using the tool on roughly 1 percent of its flights for now. The introduction of the new system comes in the same month that United Airlines announces a permanent end to change fees.
While this new system may seem like a major inconvenience for passengers, there is a little more to the story. First, United will only cancel 'empty' flights when it can accommodate all of the passengers using alternative flights. Second, United will cancel flights a full seven days before departure if the passenger numbers are not where they need to be.
United's new system does not mean that a low-volume flight will be cancelled strictly on the basis of passenger numbers. United will also be looking at its flight schedules at a holistic level to see if a flight can be canceled without disrupting other flights by preventing aircraft and crew from getting where they need to be. United Airlines managers have full control to override the algorithm when needed.
United began using its new flight-canceling algorithm back on Aug. 14. The airline claims that 77 percent of customers impacted by auto-canceled flights are still getting to their destinations within four hours of their original landing times. What's more, many are actually arriving sooner than they would have on their original flights.