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Lead time to fill a plane reservations-wise

Posted: Mon Jun 15, 2020 2:01 pm
by indygs
With all the coming and going of flights from flight schedules as a result of COVID, I've always been curious how long it takes for an airline to sell enough seats on an added flight to make it worth their while? For instance, I noticed in Enrilla's recent thread, DL added many A333/B767 TATL routes from ATL that will pick up in August. They clearly believe 8 weeks or so is enough time to sell a decent number of seats in this current climate.

Just curious if anyone with some revenue management experience might have some thoughts on how this is done and what variables go into the equation (plane type, destination, O&D traffic, etc.)

Re: Lead time to fill a plane reservations-wise

Posted: Mon Jun 15, 2020 2:18 pm
by PSU.DTW.SCE
Airlines have a lot of historical data regarding advanced sales and demand curves. However, the current situation we are in with COVID, border closures, quarenteens, and economies makes the use of historical data a lot more challenging.

Different routes and different customer profiles tend to have different booking behavior.
- Leisure travel, and particularly around holidays and school breaks tend to book farther in advance, often 3-6 months in advance (e.g, spring break trips, Europe trips)
- Business travel for planned events like conferences and training tends to book more in the 1-2 month advance (e.g., trade shows, conferences, third party training)
- Routine business travel tends to be 3-4 weeks in advance (e.g. planned meetings, meetings in the field)
- Sales and urgent travel is less than 2 weeks in advance (e.g, sales pursuits, busy executives with rapidly changing schedules)
- Emergency family and personal travel less than a week (e.g. funerals, emergency needs to attend to family members)

Outside of that there is a whole slew of people that book within 3-6 weeks in advance as plans, events, and reasons to travel come-up.
The number that used to hold true that for domestic travel in the US, 80% of tickets are booked less than 5 weeks before departure.
That is a broad-brush statement and that again varies a lot by route, day-of-the-week, and market but that generally holds true.

Now, in the current era, the demand curves are skewed, the traveler profile is skewed, and borders and economies are opening at uneven rates around the world. To some extent airlines need to operate a flight to even have a chance at getting forward sales. There is some amount of existing, previously booked travel that people may still by flying, there are people "stuck" and hunkered down at places during the quareteen that desire to transit to other residences in other countries and/or see family.

Re: Lead time to fill a plane reservations-wise

Posted: Mon Jun 15, 2020 2:37 pm
by Midwestindy
As you likely know, lead in time is highly dependent on the route profile (leisure, business, int'l, domestic, e.t.c). In addition, there are some important factors as well such as the time of the year, day of the week, time of day, and other less thought about variables

I'll give a few examples:

CLT-LAS, is normally only around 25% full two months from departure

CLT-FCO, will normally be close to 60% full two months from departure.

Generally the longer the haul of the flight, the higher the lead in time, here is the lead in time for bookings to the middle east (UAE, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, & Jordan) :

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However the pandemic has thrown these booking curves out of the window: https://www.travelandleisure.com/travel ... statistics

"More than 70 percent of people who booked a flight in May were looking to travel in May or June," according to Priceline

“Overall, we’re seeing the majority of travel demand happening in the same month or same week of when the trip is set to begin,” Mel Dohmen, a senior spokeswoman at Travelocity

"Conversely, travelers from the South and Southeast along with those in many Midwestern states like Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Minnesota were more likely to book a week or less from when they want to travel."


As for what future trends will look like, Dohmen said it’s up in the air and “booking windows are changing as we settle into this next phase of reopening.”

Re: Lead time to fill a plane reservations-wise

Posted: Mon Jun 15, 2020 4:56 pm
by c933103
On any flight to China from some Western countries: Probably in a few hours

Re: Lead time to fill a plane reservations-wise

Posted: Mon Jun 15, 2020 5:22 pm
by indygs
PSU.DTW.SCE wrote:
The number that used to hold true that for domestic travel in the US, 80% of tickets are booked less than 5 weeks before departure.


That's wild, though I can totally see it. Perhaps the interesting thing in this thought experiment is where my own habits fall vs. what the industry norms are for particular routes.

Midwest--for sure, I'm not at all surprised that CLT-FCO vs CLT-LAS would have that wide a difference.

I suppose everyone is now gathering real-time data on what booking in the midst of an unsolved pandemic looks like ;)

Re: Lead time to fill a plane reservations-wise

Posted: Mon Jun 15, 2020 5:24 pm
by airhansa
I'm surprised that there are people booking so far ahead! I'd book the vast majority of flight tickets for travel within one week or one month at the most.

Re: Lead time to fill a plane reservations-wise

Posted: Mon Jun 15, 2020 5:37 pm
by dbo861
airhansa wrote:
I'm surprised that there are people booking so far ahead! I'd book the vast majority of flight tickets for travel within one week or one month at the most.


Same here, especially for weekend trips to Las Vegas and San Diego. The last few times I went to Vegas I got a text from friends while I'm driving home from work on Friday suggesting we go to Vegas for the weekend. Two hours later I'm on a flight. I live in Sacramento so those aren't super long flights.

Re: Lead time to fill a plane reservations-wise

Posted: Mon Jun 15, 2020 5:53 pm
by PSU.DTW.SCE
People that coordinate schedules with families and/or traveling on very specific dates will book well in advance.
The airlines conditioned many people in to believing the earlier you book, the mostly likely to get the cheapest air fare. As many of us know, that isn't necessarily always true.

However, it is real that certain fare buckets on the legacies are tied to the days prior to departure. 21-days, 14-day, and 7-day advance fare windows are real.
Many companies have certain policies that require advanced purchase for certain types of travel, any in many cases travel requires special approval and/or gets flagged for compliance review if booked less than 7 days out since the price tends to go up significantly.

I try to book stuff 4-6 weeks for personal travel, and 2-3 weeks out for work in advance as much as possible since my schedule and the airlines schedule change too much.

Re: Lead time to fill a plane reservations-wise

Posted: Mon Jun 15, 2020 6:20 pm
by braniff2hav
There could also be a number of pax already confirmed and ticketed on these flights pre- Covid 19 that never cancelled - in hopes or to await a refund should the flight have cancelled.

Re: Lead time to fill a plane reservations-wise

Posted: Mon Jun 15, 2020 6:38 pm
by lhrnue
I bet airlines monitor very very closely what people search for on their online portals. Not saying they don't do this during normal times ... but I can't imagen any airline want to be caught out short on capacity when the traffic picks up.

Re: Lead time to fill a plane reservations-wise

Posted: Mon Jun 15, 2020 7:29 pm
by Weatherwatcher1
indygs wrote:
PSU.DTW.SCE wrote:
The number that used to hold true that for domestic travel in the US, 80% of tickets are booked less than 5 weeks before departure.


That's wild, though I can totally see it. Perhaps the interesting thing in this thought experiment is where my own habits fall vs. what the industry norms are for particular routes.

Midwest--for sure, I'm not at all surprised that CLT-FCO vs CLT-LAS would have that wide a difference.

I suppose everyone is now gathering real-time data on what booking in the midst of an unsolved pandemic looks like ;)


It’s been a while since I’ve seen numbers. I remember 50% of domestic travel being within 7 days of departure. It was higher for business routes between cities like New York, Chicago, Washington, etc but lower for leisure travel. The majority of domestic tickets are sold 3-10 days before departure.

Re: Lead time to fill a plane reservations-wise

Posted: Mon Jun 15, 2020 8:01 pm
by 32andBelow
It totally depends. When I worked in this field I’ve added flights and seen them sold out in a day. I wonder if the airlines are aggressively overbooking and just adding flights where they need to. That’s what I would be doing.

Re: Lead time to fill a plane reservations-wise

Posted: Mon Jun 15, 2020 8:07 pm
by LCDFlight
Transoceanic is really different. Anything booked inside of 21 days, and certainly within 7 days, is business, or else an emergency. A great deal of Transoceanic is booked ,60, 90, 100, 120 days out. If low fares are available at less than 20 days, it is a last minute fare sale.

Domestic USA, the active booking time for tourists is 14-60 days out. Within 14 days, it is more likely to be high yield or business traffic. Few people book domestic USA (other than Hawaii) more than 60 days out. The really active time (the time when most bookings per day occur) will be between day 7 and day 30 out from departure, for most domestic flights. That is when the airline finds out if each flight is "hot or not" to the market. If it is hot, they make it more expensive so they milk every last dollar of customer value they can. If it is not, they will sell cheap fares to fill the seats.

About the question (practicality of adding COVID sections), the logistics of doing that is really onerous. You want to schedule domestic flights at a minimum 30 days out. And 60 days is a lot better. Airlines typically do it 330 days out AFAIK (in terms of general capacity... 90 days out the details are firm usually). Anything less than 30 days, you are really hurting your own revenue base severely.

Re: Lead time to fill a plane reservations-wise

Posted: Mon Jun 15, 2020 8:08 pm
by PSU.DTW.SCE
32andBelow wrote:
It totally depends. When I worked in this field I’ve added flights and seen them sold out in a day. I wonder if the airlines are aggressively overbooking and just adding flights where they need to. That’s what I would be doing.

Some routes that is the case. DL is doing that on some hub-to-hub routes on certain days. They have nearly wingtip flights at peak times on ATL-SLC in June as flights are filling up.

Re: Lead time to fill a plane reservations-wise

Posted: Mon Jun 15, 2020 8:11 pm
by FlyingElvii
32andBelow wrote:
It totally depends. When I worked in this field I’ve added flights and seen them sold out in a day. I wonder if the airlines are aggressively overbooking and just adding flights where they need to. That’s what I would be doing.

With so much schedule slack, and HUNDREDS of pilots on reserve, there is really no excuse not to.

I know we have been adding flights with 24-48 hours notice, almost daily, and that has picked up over the last two weeks.

Re: Lead time to fill a plane reservations-wise

Posted: Mon Jun 15, 2020 8:14 pm
by BTV290
We're also in weird times right now with demand that doesn't quite match historical data.
My station lost all of its read eye flying at the start of all of this. In mid-May they decided to add one flight back in just to see what would happen. The loaded the flight on the Tuesday of the week for a first flight date of that coming Sunday... It went out full with no non-revs cleared.

Re: Lead time to fill a plane reservations-wise

Posted: Mon Jun 15, 2020 8:21 pm
by slcdeltarumd11
I agree with everyone this throws all booking curves and trends out the window.

Alot probably depends on how the economy holds up and how comfortable people are to fly or stay in hotels. Changing variables so the lead time needed will change. The airlines best asset here is to run flight to hubs only and upgauage or downgauge plane sizes based one what's selling better. While difficult and complex easier then trying to predict demand on routes right now. Really tough time to predict anything in life especially airline traffic.

Re: Lead time to fill a plane reservations-wise

Posted: Mon Jun 15, 2020 8:31 pm
by georgiaame
Future passenger here. I/we had two cruises pulled out from under us in March, along with a flight from Atlanta to Peru to catch the first one. I'm itching to travel. We rebooked cruises in early October. I'm an optimist. I don't know if the countries will be open. I don't know if the cruises will be cancelled (again). Delta is showing connections into Greece, which I need, as well as connections out of Italy. But I'm probably not going to book anything until late in August, simply because of the uncertainty. I know I can get my cruise fare refunded. But I don't know about the Delta credit that we currently have. I dare say Delta really wants me to book, as do I. Strange times we live in.

Re: Lead time to fill a plane reservations-wise

Posted: Tue Jun 16, 2020 12:03 am
by MIflyer12
FlyingElvii wrote:
32andBelow wrote:
It totally depends. When I worked in this field I’ve added flights and seen them sold out in a day. I wonder if the airlines are aggressively overbooking and just adding flights where they need to. That’s what I would be doing.

With so much schedule slack, and HUNDREDS of pilots on reserve, there is really no excuse not to.


I have to wonder how that messes with fare bucket availability. How late do you accept that you are going to operate an extra flight and want to have 100 people on it, not just 30? And, flights and crews need to get back (or onward). ATL-SLC may be great but that single segment doesn't fill the day.

Re: Lead time to fill a plane reservations-wise

Posted: Tue Jun 16, 2020 12:08 am
by Midwestindy
Looks like somewhat of a return to the normal booking window:

Image

Re: Lead time to fill a plane reservations-wise

Posted: Tue Jun 16, 2020 12:46 am
by 32andBelow
MIflyer12 wrote:
FlyingElvii wrote:
32andBelow wrote:
It totally depends. When I worked in this field I’ve added flights and seen them sold out in a day. I wonder if the airlines are aggressively overbooking and just adding flights where they need to. That’s what I would be doing.

With so much schedule slack, and HUNDREDS of pilots on reserve, there is really no excuse not to.


I have to wonder how that messes with fare bucket availability. How late do you accept that you are going to operate an extra flight and want to have 100 people on it, not just 30? And, flights and crews need to get back (or onward). ATL-SLC may be great but that single segment doesn't fill the day.
itll depends on what revenue management wants to do as its their job. The buckets close out based on time as well as load factor. My guess is a flight added close in will be expensive since there is demand likely overbooked from other flights.

Re: Lead time to fill a plane reservations-wise

Posted: Tue Jun 16, 2020 1:07 am
by FlyingElvii
slcdeltarumd11 wrote:
I agree with everyone this throws all booking curves and trends out the window.

Alot probably depends on how the economy holds up and how comfortable people are to fly or stay in hotels. Changing variables so the lead time needed will change. The airlines best asset here is to run flight to hubs only and upgauage or downgauge plane sizes based one what's selling better. While difficult and complex easier then trying to predict demand on routes right now. Really tough time to predict anything in life especially airline traffic.

You can expect the high-end mostly business hotels like Corporate Marriott or Holiday Inns that have corporate bosses to answer to, to maintain a high standard of cleaning and hygiene throughout this. Too much money on the line not to do it.

Mid-lower priced franchise operations, not so much....

Re: Lead time to fill a plane reservations-wise

Posted: Tue Jun 16, 2020 10:03 am
by eta unknown
I was the manager who set the fares in my local market and every carrier I worked for we had a window of 3 months. It used to be longer, but over time the window shortened to just always looking at a constant 90 day forward booking forecast.

However, as mentioned at thread start, some markets are notoriously last minute. I've seen some intra-Asia flights completely empty one week out, yet depart full.

Re: Lead time to fill a plane reservations-wise

Posted: Tue Jun 16, 2020 5:02 pm
by indygs
Hi, just wanted to say thanks to everyone for such neat insights. I am a very frequent traveler and this question has always come to mind, especially when eyeing a particular seat someone has secured seemingly long before I have!

Re: Lead time to fill a plane reservations-wise

Posted: Tue Jun 16, 2020 6:29 pm
by Miamiairport
32andBelow wrote:
It totally depends. When I worked in this field I’ve added flights and seen them sold out in a day. I wonder if the airlines are aggressively overbooking and just adding flights where they need to. That’s what I would be doing.


AA appears to be proactively offering a different flight with no change fee or fare change and from what I've seen while it's addressed as "providing a flight that's less crowded" but in reality an overbooked flight with AA trying to get volunteers to change flights without offering compensation in the way a VDB would.

Re: Lead time to fill a plane reservations-wise

Posted: Tue Jun 16, 2020 8:38 pm
by PSU.DTW.SCE
32andBelow wrote:
MIflyer12 wrote:
FlyingElvii wrote:
With so much schedule slack, and HUNDREDS of pilots on reserve, there is really no excuse not to.


I have to wonder how that messes with fare bucket availability. How late do you accept that you are going to operate an extra flight and want to have 100 people on it, not just 30? And, flights and crews need to get back (or onward). ATL-SLC may be great but that single segment doesn't fill the day.
itll depends on what revenue management wants to do as its their job. The buckets close out based on time as well as load factor. My guess is a flight added close in will be expensive since there is demand likely overbooked from other flights.

I can't speak for the others, but what has also happened with DL is that with their May & June schedules, and even going into July they have really "regionalized" their network so that has put a lot more pressure on their hub-to-hub flights, particularly DTW/MSP/ATL - SLC. DL cut a lot of the longer/thinner flying that overflew SLC to the west and conversely much of the SLC-East flying.
When they collapsed the schedule, it rescheduled existing reservations on to connecting flights. Thus they've had to continually add additional sections and/or upgauge the DTW/MSP/ATL-SLC flights since many were sold out weeks in advance, even with passengers cancelling existing reservations and the new reservations booked as things are opening-up.