Airlines made big effort to tap into leisure demand in 2021

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Among North American airlines, Southwest was the most prolific, introducing 183 new routes in 2021.
Among North American airlines, Southwest was the most prolific, introducing 183 new routes in 2021. Photo Credit: Stephen M. Keller/Southwest

Airlines launched more than 1,200 routes involving airports in the U.S., Canada and Mexico in 2021 as they sought out leisure demand far and wide. 

Notably, 889 of those routes were domestic U.S., according to Air Service One, a news site focused on airline routes that partners with industry analyst Ralph Anker.   

Last year's North America total of 1,252 new routes included launches from 62 airlines. More than half of the routes, 53%, faced no direct competition at the time of launch. A substantial majority of the routes were less than daily, with an average weekly frequency of 4.55. 

The data is illustrative of how airlines became increasingly adventurous with their networks in 2021 as business demand continued to lag way behind the 2019 baseline while domestic leisure demand more-or-less recovered. 

Anker, whose recently suspended Anker Report newsletter was Europe-based, only began closely tracking new U.S. routes last year. But he said a rough analysis indicates that in 2019, carriers launched between 500 and 540 new domestic U.S. routes compared to 2021's 889. 

In Europe the trend was similar. Air Service One identified 2,069 new route launches involving European airports in 2021, compared to approximately 1,850 in 2019. 

For 2021, Anker defined a new route as one that the airline didn't fly in either 2020 or 2019.  

Among North American airlines, Southwest was the most prolific, introducing 183 new routes. American was next with 145 new routes. Ultralow-cost carriers Allegiant, Frontier and Spirit recorded the next three highest totals, respectively. 

"With their focus on leisure markets, these carriers looked to find new markets that would appeal to passengers looking to get away for a relaxing break during the pandemic," Air Service One reported. 

Also notable were the 58 combined routes launched by start-up leisure U.S. carriers Breeze and Avelo, as well as 51 by Canadian budget carrier Flair Airlines. 

As far as markets, Florida saw by far the most route launches of any U.S. state with 356, another indication of the emphasis airlines are placing these days on leisure flying. Next highest was California, with 216 route launches. 

Miami was the individual airport that benefited the most, with 82 new routes, including at least a dozen launches by American, Frontier and Southwest and 28 launches by new entrant Spirit. Orlando was second with 62 routes and Las Vegas was third with 61. 

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