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Commercial strategy, Expert view, Industry outlook

Holidays in the sun: Airlines schedule over a billion seats for July and August

August 10, 2023

Cirium can reveal that airlines have scheduled just over a billion seats for July and August this year.

Holidays in the sun: Airlines schedule over a billion seats for July and August

Jeremy Bowen, CEO of Cirium

According to Cirium Diio, our industry-leading airline analytics system, airlines last year scheduled close to 900 million seats during those two months alone. That’s nearly a fifth of the 4.7 billion total seats they offered for the entire year. By contrast, they only offered 658 million during January and February, the two slowest months of the year for global air travel.

This summer, the skies will be even busier. Airlines have just over a billion seats scheduled for July and August, or 13% more versus last year.

It won’t be a record summer though, with July and August seat capacity still down 1% from 2019, pre-Covid.

Asia and the U.S. record the biggest capacity gains

Let’s take a closer look. Some of the biggest capacity gains this year are seen in Asian markets that were still mostly closed to foreign visitors last year. As an example, South Korea’s July and August seat capacity is up 51% (seats scheduled to depart from South Korean airports).

The increase for China is a more modest 18%, with longhaul international demand still far below pre-Covid levels. The U.S., still the largest country market for airlines, will see a 10% increase, keeping in mind that U.S. markets had already recovered strongly last summer. A few major country markets are less busy this summer than last. One example is Colombia, where several low-cost airlines went out of business.

Versus 2019, U.S. seat capacity this July and August is up, but by just 1%. China’s growth versus 2019 is 10% thanks to more domestic flying.

Two of the biggest standouts are Mexico and Greece. Both are much busier airline markets today than they were four years ago, with Mexico’s seats up 19% and Greece’s up 17%.

Turkiye is another double-digit gainer with seats up 10%. On the other hand, some large markets are still far smaller today versus pre-Covid times. They include Japan, the U.K., and France, all down by single digits from 2019. More severe is the decline evident in Germany, where seat capacity is down 20%. Southeast Asian markets like Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia are down by more than 20% as well.

Seasonal travel trends still remain in Northern and Southern Hemispheres

Southeast Asia happens to be a market that peaks in the northern winter, not the northern summer. In Thailand, for example, Diio shows January and March to be the two busiest months of the year for scheduled airline capacity (that’s using 2019 data; Thailand didn’t fully reopen to foreign tourist arrivals until late 2022). Countries in the Southern Hemisphere naturally exhibit different monthly capacity patterns. In Brazil, January and December are the busiest months, coinciding with the southern summer season.

July and August, however, are still busy months for markets like Brazil, Australia, and South Africa. One reason is that their winters aren’t too cold, so it’s a still good time for people from the northern hemisphere to visit.

Europe is a market where seasonal swings can be very pronounced. In 2019, the low-cost carriers scheduled 20.4 million seats during July and August, versus just 13.6 million during November and December, its two slowest months that year.

That’s 50% more! If you think that’s extreme, look at easyJet’s fellow British airline Jet2.

Its July and August seats were nearly triple what it offered in its two slowest months. Conversely, Singapore Airlines never deviates much from its monthly average, with a differential of just 18% between its busiest month in 2019 (December) and its slowest month (February).

Florida is a notable airline market that peaks in the winter. Its two busiest months are March and December. Its two slowest months are September and October (hurricane season!). July and August are in between, still attracting a fair number of families taking advantage of school breaks. Curiously, August was the busiest month of 2019 for Florida-based Spirit Airlines but not because of any seasonal scheduling strategy. It was simply because Spirit was growing so fast and adding so many new planes that it just became a much bigger airline by August than it was at the beginning of the year. The point is still valid: Florida’s busy season is the winter.

Each airline will have its own story. But the story globally is as true today as it was before Covid. When the calendar says July and August, it’s peak time for flying.

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