BTR plans fewer November flights with dip in Thanksgiving travel

With Thanksgiving travel demand forecast to soften this year, the Baton Rouge Metro Airport expects its three airlines to pull back on their typically robust November flight schedules, relative to last year.

While local booking data was not immediately available, new national figures from travel data firm OAG paint a bleak picture for the upcoming holiday. Bookings for November at American Airlines and United Airlines are roughly at one-quarter of where they were at this time in 2019. Meanwhile, reservations at Delta Air Lines are at only 12% of 2019 levels.

“Airlines had hoped this Thanksgiving would be stronger than it’s ended up being, based on advanced bookings,” says BTR spokesman Jim Caldwell. “I’m hearing that our bookings are pretty strong, though there are still seats available. We’ll have greater capacity than we have in October but we’ll still be at less than 70% of what we were last year.”

BTR’s three airlines are expected to have a total of 27,309 seats in November, up from October seating capacity, which currently totals 26,649. But only 398 departures are planned for November, down slightly from 399 for October.

It’s happening as airlines are now free to cut service at will. Minimum air-service rules attached to CARES Act funds expired Sept. 30, freeing airlines to drop destinations. American has already said it will suspend flights to 11 small markets while Delta has indefinitely suspended flights to places like Worcester, Massachusetts. Executives at United have said they might make cuts if travel does not continue to rebound.

The regional airport saw the steepest decline in flight demand in April, when there were just 1,749 enplanements—a 95% drop from the year before. By May, the year-over-year decrease had crept up to 85%, then 78% in June, 67% in July and nearly 64% in August. Deplanements out of the airport follow a near-identical pattern.

So far, October flight frequencies are at 63% of their pre-pandemic levels. American added one roundtrip flight to Dallas-Fort Worth this month, while Delta added another roundtrip flight to Atlanta, bringing an additional 4,595 seats since September. 

Overall, Caldwell expects to continue seeing incremental gains in passenger volume each month through the fourth quarter, estimating that by the end of the year, BTR will reach about 50% of its pre-pandemic levels.

“It’s hard to say exactly when we’ll be back to normal levels,” Caldwell says. “In short, it depends on demand.”