United Airlines Is Flying 84% Of Their Seats Empty Today

a model airplane on display

United Airlines has a load factor of only 16% today with 40,000 passengers booked worldwide.  This is according to a source at United with knowledge of the daily operations.

There are tons of airlines who have grounded significant portions of their fleet due to the current crisis surrounding coronavirus.  Some friends of mine are tracking cancelations around the world and you can view their work here.  United currently appears to have 68% of their fleet of 786 airplanes grounded right now, spurred by lack of demand due to COVID-19.

United Airlines 16% Load Factor

That nets out to about 250 planes.  United has stopped flying many of their international routes, so we can assume many of the planes are narrow-bodies such as 737s and Airbus A319 and A320 aircraft, as well as some regional jets.

It’s hard to nail accurate segment numbers without having more specific fleet info.  But, if we make an assumption that the planes still flying are operating on average 3 or 4 flights per day, that nets out to somewhere between 800 and 1000 flights today.  Extrapolating that math, it seems to add up to no more than 50 people per flight on a plane like a 737.  Still, if you figure a 737 has approximately 150 seats across all of United’s variants, a 16% load factor would be less than 30 passengers.  Amongst all these numbers, one thing remains clear.  United is flying a lot of planes pretty darn empty right now.

a large airplane on a runway

The Final Two Pennies

There have been reports that the Big 3 airlines in the US (American, Delta and United) are considering grounding their entire fleets for a couple of weeks.  If United is operating flights at a 16% load factor across the system right now, many of those flights have to be losing the company money.  With numbers that low, it does make me wonder why they haven’t grounded the entire fleet for some period of time.  They must have a compelling reason for the flying that they’re doing.  But, it’s a lot of empty seats.

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  1. ” If United is operating flights at a 16% load factor across the system right now, *many* of those flights have to be losing the company money.”

    More like ALL of those flights will be losing money. There’s no number of ventilators and gowns you can fly under belly to make up for that level of load factor (cuz you still need full crew).

  2. Well Maybe UA don’t want be first to close down because the people is going to be crazy and say ( no more united
    The take the money from the government and now is closing down the cancel my reservation and on on on on ) people never happy
    Honesty I hope the close down for few week

  3. A friend of mine works at Boeing, in the “seat department”. They have been asked to figure out how to reconfigure economy seats for cargo by many airlines. I give credit to the airlines for trying their best to keep their planes in the sky. As I have a very ill father during this pandemic I appreciate that they continue to fly just in case I need to take that emergency flight home.

    1. Molly, no doubt there are emergency needs like yours. I hope your father recovers soon. There are a number of cargo solutions for in-cabin. I guess I’m not surprised that folks are brainstorming how to do more of that.

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